Our Cup Runneth Over

Too much to do to blog it all.

This is life on the farm now:

Get up before the sun for coffee and a piece of fruit

Barn chores

Pick from dawn until done (about 2.5-3 hours)

Water, prune, other maintenance 1-2 hours

Sort and clean produce

Pack produce for restaurant for the chef to take or for me to deliver

Can, dehydrate, freeze what is to be used for the family.

Day Two:

Water, check crops, barn chores

Preserve everything that could not be done the day before


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The Proof is in the Pictures

There is so much happening now that only pictures can convey it all and are all I have time for.  I will be picking the first zucchini this week and cucumbers won’t be far behind. I harvested the last of the cabbage and lettuces yesterday.  I also saw the first pepper yesterday and picked the first handful of raspberries.

Note the vast difference in the tomato plants grown in the high tunnel and those outdoors. 

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A Good Farm Day

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I was laid low over the weekend by pain and intense heat, so it was wonderful (and sorely needed) to get out yesterday early AM for three hours of harvesting and weeding. Here is what I am harvesting now:

fingerling potatoes (Russian Banana)

purple, orange, white, and orange carrots

kale (Lacinato and Fizz)

Rainbow Swiss Chard


onions (Bridger–harvesting them all and they are drying on the driveway)

purple bunching onions



basil (Mammoth and Genovese)


nasturtium flowers

leaf lettuce

For supper last night, I used all of the above to make a green salad, antipasto plate, and stir fry. It was delicious and oh so nutritious.  Everyone loved it and Lily got creative with her rice noodles.  Kale, strawberries, chard, and carrots went to the restaurant with the chef this morning.

Potato, PoTOTo

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My seed potatoes from Seed Savers are sprouting some eyes and it’s time to get planting.  I cut them up, leaving about one eye per hunk.  I will let the cut surfaces callous over for a few days before getting them in the ground. I’m planting Desiree and Sangre.  I already planted Russian Banana Fingerlings in the high tunnel and they are growing strong.

Best Exercise Around

Yesterday, the sun was out and highs hovered in the 40’s.  I donned a sweatshirt over my long-sleeved t, put on my heavy work gloves (my Ethel ones) and headed out for some solo work time.  I love the quiet of the outdoors and the time to think and recharge.  With hubby home, he and Lily were inside playing/cleaning and I could focus on the job at hand.

There is something so satisfying about putting the garden in order for a new season.  I am not the kind of gardener who does all the cleanup in the fall–leaving perfectly prepared beds for spring.  I’d like to be, but once things actually freeze and die, I am happy to be done with those outside beds for a while.  The spent plants and seed heads make nice food and cover for birds and small mammals.

In about 3 1/2 hours I built the shelves we purchased for the high tunnel; organized tools; pulled, sorted, and stored about 50 stakes; pulled out all the dead plants; used the stirrup hoe to prep raised beds; weeded the garlic bed; and dragged all the plants and other dead plant matter to the brush pile.  There are a few brush piles on the property we add to in this way each year.  Instead of burning them, we leave them for wildlife.  The one back by the garden offers cover to deer, snakes, turtles, and more.  These natural compost piles seem to stay about the same size from year to year–our adding to them balances out with the extent to which they decompose.

And what to wondering eyes did appear–rhubarb unfurling and 3 asparagus shoots coming out of the ground. Spring has sprung from the earth.

As I worked, I gathered weeds in one basket and trash in another.  I threw the weeds into the chicken yard to very thankful gals eager for their greens.

Near the end, Lily came out bundled in a coat and garden gloves.  I was about to go in, but was not going to discourage her wish to help, so I spent another hour cleaning up in the orchard and helping her make a few final pruning cuts to the peach trees. At this point, the garden is in need of some raking and the raspberry plants need pruned and thinned.  I still have tons of frozen raspberries in the freezer and the raspberry patch is far, far bigger than what we need.  It’s time to scale back.  Paco suggested that we take the thinned out plants and transplant them to the back of the property where they can be enjoyed by wildlife.  Good idea!  Paco is a conservationist at his core–he hates the idea of taking things out.  He always hatches a transplant plot.

Today I woke up pleasantly sore and feeling very stretched out.  It’s nice.


Phase 2 of high tunnel complete and late summer on the farm

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The high tunnel has doors and framed ends. Phase 2 is complete.  Phase 3 will be adding the plastic and the hardware to secure it.  There are now 4 3X12 feet raised beds thanks to hubby and an employee, Felix.  6 more beds will fit.  So far, 3 are planted with:

Broccoli, Arugula, 5 varieties of carrots, kale, snap peas, zucchini, cucumber, 2 varieties of spinach, parsley, 2 varieties of beets, and lettuces.  The zucchini and the cucumbers might be a long shot, but it doesn’t hurt to try.  I will also be planting strawberries.  And more!

Ugly Betties

tomatoes with cat face and splits

Tomato time is here.  Many of those I am picking are quite unattractive.  I am getting lots that are cracking and many that are cat faced.  The orange tomato in the foreground is cat faced–having ugly brown scars.  These are caused by cool temps during fruit formation.  Our erratic weather this summer caused this.  As far as the splitting, weather wins again.  Temperature swings, extremes, and plenty of moisture are causing the fruits to crack.  Neither of these change flavor and are completely cosmetic, but they are annoying.  I am still sending plenty of cherry tomatoes down to the restaurant, but I may not be able to send as many heirlooms for slicing as I had hoped. 

Here is a link about cat faced fruit:
and here is one about splitting:
Here is Cornell’s Tomato disease Identification site: http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/diagnostickeys/TomWlt/TomWiltKey.html 
I am ever aware of how lucky I am to not be trying to sell at market–to a public that is trained to look for perfect, unblemished fruit. Today’s lesson is that the we need, as consumers, to look beyond the package and look for quality.
In the end, after losing 42 plants to blight last year, I am happy to be harvesting at all.  I will use my ugly tomatoes gladly.

Where Things Stand

Having 4 whole days without storms and downpours gave me a chance to catch up in the garden.

Done:  Strawberries, Romaine, Asparagus, Rhubarb

Harvesting now:  First few summer squash, basil, cilantro, raspberries, spring onions, handful of cherry tomatoes, broccoli

Soon:  cucumbers, peppers


Pest problems:  flea beetles on eggplants, using dustbuster


Fruit update:

Strawberries–ripped out both raised beds full of strawberries.  Added 1 yard of compost soil to top these 2 plus one other raised bed.  I will plant more strawberries in one and start second plantings of cucumbers and summer squash for late summer/fall harvest.

The strawberry harvest was light.  I had allowed them free rein in the raised beds and by this spring (year 2), they were so densely planted that the harvest was light and fruits were small.   I have enough “spillover” plants from around the beds to be able plant the new bed.

Blackberries–the vines are so loaded.  We will be able to bathe in them.  Our first year with a crop so I am unsure about when they will ripen.  Next couple weeks would be my best guess.

Raspberries–the early harvest is ripening and I have been picking about a quart a day. This is their 3rd year on the ground and they are now taller than me.  I think I am actually going to cut them back because they are providing too much shade to the tomatoes.  The placement of the raspberries is probably my biggest gardening mistake so far.  They are in the middle of the garden and there are too many of them.  This fall, we have decided to dig them up, transplant some to the southeast corner of the garden and gift the rest.  I still have many raspberries in the freezer from last fall! 

Trees:  all 4 apples, 2 cherries, 2 peaches, and the sole pear are looking great.  The only fruit we have are 2 peaches–one on each tree.  If we can get these to harvest, we will need to have some kind of ceremony around them!

Grapes–the grapes are loving their new home along the western fence of the garden.  We heavily mulched with compost and growth has been great.  We even have a cluster of grapes

on one of the pinot noir vines.

Kiwi–the hardy kiwi vines, in their third year, have yet to flower, but growth is good.  We will see.

Garlic and Epazote!!!

I finished harvesting garlic this morning.  Thanks to the fact that the hoophouses were constructed over top of last fall’s garlic bed, my harvest is about 3 weeks early.  Now I have a nice empty space where I can plant another crop.  A few days ago, I dug out about 10 bulbs with my small hand spade.  Yesterday, at Tractor Supply, I purchased a small “Razorback” shovel.  It comes to my knee. My husband chuckled at  my little shovel.  Using that this morning, I easily harvested the remaining 20 or so bulbs in about 10 minutes.  EASY!  I think it will also be great for harvesting all of my root crops–carrots, beets (if I ever get any!), potatoes, and sweet potatoes.  Tools make a tremendous difference.   Also, took the handheld wire weeder and the stirrup hoe to all the beds this morning.  So easy and satisfying.


Once garlic is harvested (leaving the entire plant intact), it needs to be cured. 

This is done by storing it in a dry area with good air circulation.  I put it in my garage on my seed starting mini-greenhouse.  I use this because it has shelves that are wire grates and allow for plenty of circulation.  It takes about 3 weeks.  The curing process is what hardens up the outer covering of the bulb and the layers around each clove.  After curing you can trim the tops and roots and it can be stored in a dry, cool location in mesh bags or in shallow pans.  Some of the best ones can be planted this fall for next year.  One clove is planted and that becomes a full bulb.

Epazote is a very fragrant and tasty herb used in Mexican cooking. It is a weed to most but a culinary delight to us.  I can still taste the fresh masa quesadillas at Rick Bayless’ s Frontera Grill in Chicago with fresh cheese and epazote.  Yum!  Wiki page:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysphania_ambrosioides  It can be hard to come by fresh around here–even in Mexican stores.  I tracked down seeds and planted some last year.  This morning I discovered a patch of it growing on the garden path. What a welcome weed!  I will harvest heavily and use fresh and dry.  if you are local and would like to try some, let me know.  It may very well be in your backyard too.

I harvested a mountain of kale this morning and will be dehydrating it.  It’s a good idea to preserve as much as you can early on for 2 reasons–the July-September harvesting and preserving workload is intense and it’s great to have as much of the work done early as possible.  Secondly, the bug pressure will build as summer continues, and your greens will likely be a lot less “damaged” now than later.  As the bug pressure becomes more than I want to deal with, I pull lettuce, kale, and other items out of the ground and let the chickens feast.

Note:  the zuchinni, basil, and tomatoes are all fresh and local.  The basil is ours and the tomatoes and zuchinni are from the market and available due to the amazing season extending help of high tunnels and greenhouses.

Treasure Hunt

Everything is in and now there are daily surprises in the garden.  Yesterday, a handful of cherry tomatoes from the “Sweet 100” planted in the hoophouse in April.  Yahoo!!  Tomatoes on June 9!  Pretty proud of myself!  Also, was amazed to see baby zucchini coming on.  Days away from our first ones. 

The potatoes are doing great and, so far, no potato beetles.  I am sure they will be here any minute.  The cukes are winding their way up the trellises.  Have already harvested 3 heads of broccoli and there is more on the way.  Kale is big and beautiful and I am supplying the restaurant for soups.  I will soon dehydrate a big bunch for winter cooking. 

I started harvesting garlic yesterday.  The harvest is early due to the hoophouse and I am already scheming as to what I will plant in the empty space.  I am also planning n ripping the strawberries out and replanting those 2 beds with some strawberries and not sure what else.

What is struggling: 

  • Sweet potatoes:  my first year with this crop is an obviously irresistable bunny treat.  BUT, all that he has mowed down has come back,  so I think we will harvest. 
  • Beets—I will keep trying , but the critters are eating all the seedlings.  Perhaps I will so some in the hoophouse and cover with remay.

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One Great Saturday

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My plan had been to use this weekend to get the majority of the garden in, but mother nature had her way and there are frost warnings for the next 2 nights.  So, we spent our Saturday  at the Farmer’s Market and then spreading 2 yards of beautiful compost onto the garden beds.  Since installing the garden in 2008, we have come a long, long way.  There is very little weed pressure this year so I decided to try a no-till approach.  Instead of tilling and waking up all those weed seeds and disrupting the ecology of the soil, we are mulching with a thick layer of compost and then will roll paper mulch on top and plant into that.  Should be a lovely thing.  So, in less time than we normally spend on tilling, we have mulched and greatly improved the soil and prepped our beds. 

We are already harvesting plenty of greens from the hoophouse.  The garlic, which had the hoophouses constructed on top of it, is ahead of schedule.  I removed the scapes today so that the plants’ energy would be spent on bulb-making.  There is a picture of a scape in the slide show. 

We found a feisty garter snake and a baby vole (?) during our adventures.  Lillian was thrilled. You’ll also see the strawberries, kiwi vines, raspberries, and blackberries growing like gang busters.  I think within the week we will have fresh strawberries to add to our rhubarb.  We had a great time.

Well into Spring

We are well into spring now and life seems to be rushing past.  I need to slow down and savor the miracles around us.  New lives are abundant here.  The daffodils bloomed today for the first time.  The now one week old kittens are starting to open their eyes.  I knew kittens were born with closed eyes, but I did not realize that their eyelids slowly unzipped.  A tiny amount each day starting at about one week old.  2 of the 4 still have eyes that are completely sealed, but 2 now have tiny openings starting at the inside.  It gives them an alien-like appearance.  What must those little creatures think as their dark world becomes one of images?  It is like a second birth.

The 26 new chicks in the barn are doing great and are already in their gawky preteen feathering out stage.  The laying flock has been sick.  Some kind of respiratory infection.  It has affected about 1/2, but has been very mild.  Some have had wheezing and many are coughing and/or sneezing.  I was very alarmed at first because there are a number of things this could be and some are pretty devastating.  I contacted Purdue Extension and was referred to where I could take dead birds for necropsy, but looks like we lucked out on this one–it has been mild and have not lost any of the flock.  We did add electrolytes to their water just to boost them.  It seems to be mostly over with just a few still coughing.  The new chicks are in a separate stall and did not get sick.  We did our best to try not to cross contaminate and it seems to have worked. 

The hoophouses are working well and we are almost ready to start harvesting some salads from there.  Seedlings are up in there and doing well with one major exception–onions.  My onions from seed are weak little things and seem to be languishing.  I will be buying some already started ones when Hamilton’s Greenhouse (our neighbors!) opens.  What I did start from seed successfully for the first time is broccoli.  I have never done well on it before and always end up buying transplants, but the hoophouse seems to be a big boost for it.   I have a great micro greens blend that is going crazy in there too.  

Paco and 2 of his employees worked a good portion of the day to move the 4 apple trees (which we had planted way to close together 2 years ago)  and 8 grapes (4 new) into what is becoming our orchard.  We now have 4 apples, 8 grapes, 3 kiwi, 2 peaches, and 1 pear all behind the garden.  In the garden are 50 strawberries, 8 raspberries, 3 blueberries, and 3 blackberries.  I got the raspberries and blackberries pruned in the nick of time.  What a long way we have come!  I have a dream that 5 years from now I can walk into the backyard (in all seasons) and get supper.  Never satisfied, now that I have a hoophouse, I want a high tunnel or two that I can grow in year round.  How wonderful it would be to go stand inside in the depths of winter and get some fresh greens.  My idea of nirvana.

Pepper, eggplant, herb, raddichio, and tomato seedlings are all up and looking fantastic. I started at least 70 tomatoes and might need a 12 step program, but I imagine I will find good homes for the ones that I can’t plant. 

Hoop Houses under construction!

Thanks are due to a very cold husband!!!  Project would have been done today except that the bolts we got to form the “spine” down the middle were too short. The plastic has arrived so we can maybe get something outside by this weekend.  Yippee!!!

The hoops are made out of PVC conduit (very cheap!).  Another piece of conduit will run down the top for stability.  Green house plastic will cover and will be clipped on with removable white PVC clips (ordered from Territorial Seeds).  If you are interested in the ins and outs of construction, check out the You Tube video posted here on the site.  We added the brackets to the sides.  This should add stability to the hoops and make it easy to convert these back to regular raised beds when appropriate.

The Territorial order, which arrived today, also included a praying mantis egg case.  It is chilling in the fridge until spring.

Year in Review: Fruits

Since so much of the installation was in 2008, 2009 was our first big fruit harvest and it kept me busy.  Here is the run-down in chronological order:

Strawberries:  I spent three weeks in May doing literally nothing but picking and processing strawberries!  The harvest was huge and picking of them quite labor intensive.  I had to pick every other day in order to keep up.  They got turned into strawberry syrup (agave, not sugar sweetened) and canned or got turned into jam.  We were making strawberry basil mojitos at La Scala and so they went there too.  I turned that idea into strawberry basil jam–yum.  This coming year I would like to turn some into pie filling.  Planting all the strawberries in 2 of the raised beds was a serendipitous choice.  Strawberries spread like wildfire.

Rhubarb:  this was the first harvest year so the yield was light.   Turned into a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam, a couple of rhubarb cakes, and a pie or two.

Ground Cherries:  The plants are in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos (nightshade family).  These plants stay low to the ground and trail a bit.  VERY prolific.  It produces a small golden-colored “berry” in a paper husk (think tiny tomatillo).  They have a great vanilla citrus flavor.  Very easy to grow, tedious to pick.  Made several pies and froze quite a bit and still left most of them sit there.  Still have lots.  Will not plant this year.

Raspberries:  we had a small spring crop and then they came on heavy late summer all the way to frost.  I picked and picked and picked and picked……..  I froze lots, made jam, and we ate plenty fresh.  So delicious!

Blackberries–picked a handful only since they were planted fall 2008, but the canes went crazy and I am expecting this year will be a great crop.

Blueberries–planted this spring.  Takes 6 years to get a real crop. 

Apples–4 trees planted in 2008.  All doing fine, but we will need to move them this spring.  Much too close together and too close to the garden.  Live and learn.

Peaches–2 planted in 2009

Pear—1 planted in 2009.

Our grapes–6 planted in 2008.  Only 2 survive.  Likely will plant more this year.

A Year in Review: Vegetables

Too much to go through each and every variety grown.  Here are the highlights: 

Corn:  first time growing.  We grew corn and beans together.  Beans did great, but corn so-so.  I knew I had put it into heavy clay soil and then ignored it.  Skip this next year.  It is such a space hog and good sweet corn is easy to come by around here.

Beans:  see above. 

Lettuce:  good

Broccoli:  great crop this year and lots of side shoots

Cauliflower:  so-so

Peas:  grew just a few vines due to Lily’s allergy.  Mostly just enough for me to eat in the garden.  Yum!

Tomatillos:  grown this year on landscape cloth for weed control.  Grew like crazy, again!  Had 3-4 times more than we could ever use.  plant less!

Tomatoes:  Grew so many and lost them all. 42 plants ripped out do to late blight.  Small harvest before that.  This year will not buy any plants, use only my own to control that possible disease vector. Will try to plant less!  Got some Hungarian Hearts that were stunningly beautiful and delicious.

Carrots:  Great harvest.  Really do well in the raised beds.

Cucumbers:  4 varieties.  We still love Mini Whites.  Very big harvest of Mexican Sour Gherkins or “mouse melons.”  Will try all new varieties this year.  Too close together this year. 

Eggplant:  Hit hard with flea beetles.  Minimal harvest.  Dustbusting beetles did work, I just did not keep up.

Peppers:  All did well.  Harvest was down from previous year–I think due to cool summer

Summer Squashes:  Wonderful harvest!  Squash bugs not too active

Quinoa and huazontle:  Rabbits downed all of it.

Beets:  Planted in sandier bed this year.  Yield not nearly as good as the year before.  Also lost some to rabbits. 

Kale: Amazing!

Chard:  also good, should have planted more

Vining winter squashes:  planted in the second pasture this year to keep the massive vines out of the main garden.   pathetic harvest.