Garden Wrap-up: Successes and Failures

My first gardening season on the farm has now come to an end. The end of the growing season brings a mixture of dread and relief. No longer will I be able to harvest the vast majority of our vegetable needs from my own organic beds, where I know the produce I’m serving to my family is safe, fresh and healthy. On the other hand, a garden is high maintenance. The work doesn’t end in the vegetable patch, either. All that produce would get carried in and dumped on my kitchen island, where it sat until I could do something with it, which consisted of freezing, canning and serving it fresh. When it rains it pours, as the old saying goes. There were times when a person sitting on one side of the island could barely see a person sitting on the other side due to the heap of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beans or watermelon. All summer long we feasted on our vegetables. It was a liberating experience for me to head to the garden when it was time to prepare lunch and dinner, rather than to the fridge for purchased food. I no longer added lunch and side dish ingredients to my grocery lists as I knew I would prepare whatever happened to be available in the garden at that particular time. We enjoyed a bountiful harvest.wp_20160730_11_15_12_pro

My garden successes made gardening fun.wp_20160808_09_44_16_pro It was incredible to see how much the plants grew and changed over the course of several short months. When I first planted my garden, I got frustrated and questioned whether anything would grow at all, and later I’m peering into a jungle of green leaves, vines, and burgeoning fruit. Our rows disappeared altogether and we had to blaze our own trails through the vegetation. It’s miraculous, isn’t it, that all that can be contained inside a tiny seed?

I was surprised and delighted to see the watermelon beginning to grow this summer. I think we experienced success since we didn’t plant the seeds until June. Watermelon won’t germinate until the soil has been thoroughly warmed, and in Minnesota, that is usually the beginning of June. wp_20160915_17_28_37_proWe’ll continue to plant watermelon in June and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with them again.

Our chicken wire fence perhaps wasn’t the most beautiful, but it functioned well in keeping our chickens, turkeys and whippet (that’s a dog 🙂 ) out of the garden. One failure, however, was the fence didn’t keep out rodents.wp_20160924_09_28_35_pro I experienced great damage to my tomato crop due to some pesky critters taking up residence in my garden. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to reach for a perfectly ripe, plump tomato, only to have your hand clasp around a rotten, squishy hole hidden around the back where something has been dining. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I threw about 75% of my tomato crop to the chickens and compost pile. It’s also plain creepy while working in the garden to see small animals scurrying around in the plants. I will set traps next year to see if that helps.

Another failure was how I arranged the crops in my garden. My knowledge of crop placement has increased throughout this growing season and I will plan my garden more wisely next year. I also had the chance to become familiar with the shade patterns of my garden and will rearrange my crop placement so the shade-tolerant plants are in the areas with partial shade.

Almost as quickly as this rectangular piece of earth transformed into a buzzing, flourishing, dewy world of green, it began to brown, wilt and fade. wp_20161001_14_51_22_proSoon the summer crops were dwindling and the fall crops needed to be harvested. We spent a few hours on a warm, sunny October afternoon harvesting all the pumpkins and placing them around the house. The jack-o-lanterns will be fed to the sheep, while I plan to use the smaller sugar pumpkins for soup and pie. Ryan pulled up the corn stalks and bound them together for some fall décor.wp_20161019_13_02_59_pro

I like to give the kids opportunities to be active participants on the farm so the following weekend I assigned them the task of harvesting the squash and watermelon.wp_20161009_15_23_02_pro I gave them a wheel barrow with the instructions to pick and haul everything over to the hose, wash it off, then bring it all into the house. The watermelon we finished off in a week or two, while the squash is now piled up in a corner in our bedroom and we expect our store to last us for months. We will enjoy being able to taste fresh homegrown goodness throughout the winter in the form of hearty squash soup and side dishes. wp_20161008_17_50_30_pro I’m grateful for the break in garden chores and to be able to see the surface of my kitchen island again. In January, when the sun feels powerless and it seems all hope of summer is lost, we’ll cuddle under a blanket and begin planning the garden for spring. We’ll order our seeds and sketch a map of where everything will be planted. Then we’ll begin to dream again of working amongst dew-kissed leaves, sun-warmed fruit and sprawling plants.

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Monarch butterfly chrysalis on a corn leaf

Becca

 

Harvesting and a Big Mistake

The garden is doing so well that I’m having a hard time keeping up with the harvest. I flashback to the days I was tilling the soil and struggling to plant my seeds and I can’t quite believe how much things have changed.  The garden felt like a lost cause back then and I placed the whole mess in God’s hands.  I told Ryan I thought nothing would grow and all the work would be for nothing.  He assured me I would feel better when the plants began sprouting.  He has much more faith than I, and he was right.  WP_20160808_09_43_59_ProThe plants are huge, green and sprawling.  Everyday I notice how much bigger the fruits and veggies look, or I discover something new growing beneath large, sun-soaked leaves.

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Watermelon

I try to get the kids excited about helping in the garden by making the harvest a competition. This weekend, I grabbed a bag and began harvesting green beans on one end of the row, while giving the kids a bag and instructing them to start on the opposite end of the row.  I kept egging them on with “Wow, I’m finding so many huge beans in these plants!  I bet I’m getting way more beans than you are!”  When we met in the middle of the row I went over and checked their plants to see if they did a good job harvesting.  I teased, “Ooh, you guys missed some!  Now these beans go in my bag!”  They then ran over to the plants I harvested and, to my surprise, found a few handfuls of large beans that I missed.  They added them to their bag.  When I was sure all the beans were picked, I decided their bag was slightly heavier than mine and they were awarded the title of winner. WP_20160724_16_32_36_Pro In the end, I felt like a winner, too, since we had a fun time working together and I’d like to think I’m accomplishing my goal of instilling a love for gardening, healthy food, and the ability to work hard for the satisfaction of a job well done. WP_20160724_16_32_13_Pro

 

So what to do with all this food? Our diet is about 75% garden veggies these days.  We’re eating various veggie concoctions at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Despite this, my fridge, counters and garden are still full of green produce.  We decided it was time to step into the mysterious and slightly scary world of canning.  I have yet to purchase a pressure canner, so water bath canning is my only option right now.  For two days in a row I decided to kiss the sunny afternoon goodbye and devote hours inside the kitchen making pickles.  I made 17 quart jars of pickles, a mere dent in the bags I have sitting in my kitchen, and 9 jars of dilly beans. WP_20160808_19_20_48_Pro Even though we have yet to taste these pickled veggies, I’m pretty proud of my accomplishment.  The jars look so beautiful and symbolize all my hard work tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting, and now learning the process of preserving.  I have much more canning to do and will need many more jars.  And where to put all these jars?  Hmmm, I feel another project coming on.

I did make a mistake in my garden this year. A really big, wandering, vining, soon-to-be-orange mistake.

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Pumpkin plant spilling through the garden fence

In the beginning, our plan was to till a separate patch for growing pumpkins.  By the time I got the tilling and planting done in the main garden plot, the last thing I wanted to think of was starting over and tilling another patch.  Ryan was busy doing other projects and I didn’t want to pull him away from that.  I had a little space at the end of my garden, so I put my pumpkin seeds in this space.  Then, after I noticed a space where it looked like some cucumber plants didn’t come up, I decided to sneak in the remainder of my pumpkin seeds in this vacancy.  Big mistake and one I won’t make again.  I’ve learned one doesn’t “sneak in” a couple packets of pumpkin seeds anywhere.  Those little seeds will grow into monstrous plants.  Those monstrous plants begin to creep along the ground, invading other rows and getting all up in everybody’s business.

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Pumpkins invading beans and cabbage

They devour their neighbors, blocking out their sun and air.  I’m not sure if I can do anything at this point besides hope for the best, realize I’ve learned a valuable lesson, and purchase a machete to bushwhack my way in when it’s time to harvest tomatoes.

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My rows of tomatoes…if you can spot them.

The pumpkins are very exciting to watch grow and hunt for under the broad, green leaves, but next year I’ll give them their own patch, full of large, open, neighbor-free space for them to creep, vine and climb to their hearts’ content.

 

Becca

Blood, Sweat, Tears…and Radishes

Gardening is not for quitters. Especially during the first year, a garden will test you.  It will push you to your limit.  It demands your time, your energy, your problem-solving skills.  I’m not talking about the cute little pot of tomatoes people grow on patios or the 2×4 foot raised garden box.  Those are good things, don’t get me wrong, and any effort to produce one’s own food should be applauded, but a pot or two is mostly maintenance-free fun and doesn’t compare to our 3,500 square foot garden.  The garden we are growing, the hey-let’s-try-and-grow-all-our-own-veggies garden, the why-did-we-start-out-so-big garden, the that-grass-was-here-first-and-wants-its-land-back garden, our garden has called for my literal blood, sweat and tears before we even saw the first seedling sprout.

Would it surprise you then to hear that I love my garden? That I’m already thinking how I’ll expand it for next year?  I love working in it, seeing the plants grow and produce. WP_20160705_12_57_16_Pro And now that it’s covered with mulch and looking a bit better, I’m proud of my garden.  Is it still full of grass and weeds?  Yep.  Is it hopelessly patchy where some seeds didn’t sprout?  You betcha.  Are the rows wandering and uneven?  Totally.  Will passersby slow down and take pictures out their car windows like they do with Helga, our chicken mailbox?  Doubtful.  But I still love it.  The kids and I planted it together, so it’s not perfect.  WP_20160705_13_01_47_ProAnd I am far from a gifted gardener.  I have no green thumb.  I am a novice with much to learn.  I have to grunt and claw my way through this process of growing food, but I still find it fascinating, fulfilling, satisfying and spiritual.WP_20160705_12_56_12_Pro

We finally got this beast of a garden covered with the hay/manure mixture from the barn and surrounding barnyard that wintered our sheep and cows. Before we accomplished this, we had grass thriving right along with our fragile seedlings.

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Wow, this is really embarrassing.  But yes, that is an actual garden, not just a patchy lawn.

It took a long time to clean out the whole barnyard and spread it on top of those weeds and around each of our plants.  WP_20160705_12_55_26_ProWe just barely finished and now we see grass poking up through the mulch.  Much less grass, to be sure, and much more manageable.  Each day this week, my morning project will be weeding a section of the garden.  If I wait until afternoon, the sun is so hot and I can feel it beating down on me.  Morning weeding is actually very pleasant, with mourning doves calling, ducks splashing, and a gentle breeze stirring.

 

This morning I was weeding my third row of carrots, while Elijah is a few rows down weeding beets until he decides he wants to check the radishes. He begins harvesting the larger radishes and thank goodness for them.WP_20160705_09_54_02_Pro  Radishes are as relentless as weeds and are neither hindered by them, nor any other shortcomings of the gardener.  Elijah pulled up a healthy handful of the spicy, round roots.

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My happy, pajama’d harvester! 🙂

Radishes are about the easiest thing to grow, and provide as close to instant-reward as it gets in the agriculture world, therefore they are the perfect vegetable to grow to get a group of kids excited about gardening.  Think you don’t like radishes?  I think you’re wrong.  You love radishes, you just don’t know it yet.  Grow some, you still have plenty of time this year.  Once you harvest, slice up your radishes, sauté them in some butter until they are soft and sprinkle on salt and pepper. WP_20160705_17_27_59_Pro Mmmm, you’ll be glad you grew some!  Our radish tops don’t go to waste, either.  The bunnies were delighted to receive a delicious snack after I cut and washed our first garden harvest, mere weeks after planting the seeds!WP_20160705_12_44_52_Pro

 

Becca

Planting the Orchard

Last weekend, to celebrate Mother’s Day and our 12th anniversary (which happened to be on the same day this year!), Ryan planned a special outing as a gift for me.  We loaded up the family and drove to a tree nursery just down the road from the farm.  I wasn’t exactly sure how many trees we would be bringing home with us that day, but I about squealed with delight when Ryan announced we could get five fruit trees to plant in our orchard.

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The orchard with newly planted trees

 

We knew we wanted several apple varieties that ripened at differing times so we would be able to space our apple harvest out for as long as possible each year. We walked around the tree farm and read the information cards on each variety until we were satisfied with two.  We took home a SnowSweet, which is a new variety cultivated by the University of Minnesota that ripens in early September, and a Haralred, which ripens in October and stores well over winter.  We purchased young bare-root trees, so most of this season will be spent developing the roots.  We’ll see more growth next year.    WP_20160509_11_05_12_Pro

Next spring we’ll go back to pick up a Honeycrisp, which is an excellent mid-season tree, as well as an early variety of apple tree that ripens in August, such as Zestar.

In addition to apple trees, we decided to add plums and cherries to the orchard. We chose two different hardy plum varieties, Toka and Pembina, which produce sweet fruit excellent for fresh eating.

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Toka Plum Tree via thetreefarm.com

We also took home a Lapin cherry tree, which is a sweet cherry and a self-pollinizer so it does not need a partner.  This is one of the only sweet cherry trees suited to Minnesota’s climate.

 

In the future, we will purchase two pear trees to add to our cozy little orchard, giving us a total of 10 trees.

The variety of our current, very large, heavily-blossomed apple tree is, as of yet, a mystery. We deduced it must be an old classic by its apparent age, which is one reason we decided to purchase newer varieties for our orchard; we didn’t want to unknowingly buy the same tree we already have.  We hope to be able to identify the tree by its apples.  It looks as if it will be bowing under the weight of all its apples this year.WP_20160509_11_20_14_Pro

With our little trees safely loaded in our trailer, we drove the short trek home and got busy planning out the placement of each tree and digging holes.

The kids love to help when the shovels come out. WP_20160507_16_16_13_Pro I loved that everyone pitched in to get the orchard planted.  WP_20160507_16_24_00_ProThis orchard is in honor of our marriage and the resulting 6 beautiful babies; each one of them a blessing. WP_20160507_16_25_40_Pro It was very fitting that we all planted it together and I see these trees growing up right along with my kids.  Each will change dramatically over the next few years. WP_20160507_17_32_41_Pro As we worked together in our orchard, carefully covering the roots and watering them, I couldn’t help but think of the relation to both marriage and raising kids.  Young trees are so fragile in the beginning.  The roots are developing and must be nurtured and tended to daily.  They need attentive watering and good soil.  But once those roots get established, the tree begins to take off, growing quickly and not easily harmed by drought or storms.  A well-rooted, strong tree will bear lots of good fruit that will enrich the lives of many for years to come.

Becca

Duck’s First Bath

We finally had a warm, sunny afternoon. The weather beckoned us all outside and once the animal chores were done, the kids began wondering what else they could do in the sunshine.  So how do kids on a farm spend a pleasant spring afternoon?  By opening up a duck spa, of course. WP_20160413_14_45_21_Pro

They filled up a low spot in the driveway with water from the hose to make a large puddle. Elijah and Hannah took turns getting ducklings from the brooder and placing them in the water.  Some customers were not very cooperative and had to be escorted back to their brooder.  However, Elijah did find this little Blue Swedish that proved to be a rather willing participant.WP_20160413_14_45_17_Pro

The little duckling sat still and quiet while they took turns sprinkling water over its back.WP_20160413_14_46_07_Pro

Once the duckling was deemed thoroughly washed, the kids found some makeshift grooming tools courtesy of the neighboring pine tree.WP_20160413_14_49_37_Pro

WP_20160413_14_50_14_ProThe Blue Swedish is now ready for its close-up.WP_20160413_14_50_50_Pro

The kids loved being able to play with this little duckling. The more they are able to interact with a certain species, the more they enjoy and appreciate owning and caring for them on our farm.  I hope with more one-on-one handling, the ducks begin to grow accustomed to people and able to socialize more with the kids.

Warmly,

Becca

Recipe for Cuteness

So this just happened.WP_20160330_09_15_46_Pro.jpg

Yep, the cute-o-meter has exploded.WP_20160330_09_25_39_Pro.jpg

Want my recipe for cuteness so you can create this delicious dish at home?

Here it is and you only need 2 ingredients!

Gather the following:

A garden variety of baby chicks and ducklings.

A group of curious and excited kids.

  1. Place your mix of ducklings and chicks near the floor where they are accessible for small people.WP_20160330_07_51_09_Pro.jpg

WP_20160330_08_05_38_Pro.jpg2. Sprinkle in the kids. I happened to have the pajama’d, bed-headed variety on hand.  Gently incorporate this mixture.WP_20160330_08_23_32_Pro.jpg

WP_20160330_09_18_55_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_09_13_19_Pro.jpg3.  Plate your cuteness and serve immediately.  Enjoy!WP_20160330_08_30_16_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_09_15_40_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_09_41_13_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_11_24_26_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_09_24_54_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_09_14_49_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_09_15_09_Pro.jpgWP_20160330_08_21_14_ProWP_20160330_08_22_34_ProWP_20160330_08_30_02_Pro.jpg

Warmly,

Becca

Interview with the Arrows

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Elijah~10, Hannah~8, Abigail~6, Caleb~5, Micah~2

The kids are having so much fun on the farm.  Every morning Hannah is pushing me out the door to go see the sheep.  They bring the rabbits their water bottles and refill their alfalfa and spend hours in the barn cuddling the lambs.  Now we are beginning to work with Pearl and they are learning to be calm and quiet when offering her alfalfa pellets from their hands.  Elijah insists on going out after dinner every night for one last visit with the sheep. The kids’ new favorite trick is to sit on the ground near the lambs with their heads tucked down.  The lambs will climb onto their backs and then jump off while kicking their legs in the air.  We get such joy from watching the kids with the animals.  We want a flock that is very tame and accustomed to our presence so all this interaction with the sheep is accomplishing our goal!  We’ve noticed the sheep are much more relaxed now than ever.  I thought it would be fun to record their own words about their experiences.  I asked them questions and wrote down whatever they said!  (Some of the younger kids couldn’t think of an answer to every question.)  This is farm life from their perspective:

 

Mom: It’s been 1 month since moving to the farm.  How do you like living here?WP_20160205_10_35_34_Pro

Elijah: I like the space to run around, the sledding hill and all the animals and sheep we have.  I love the view out my bedroom window and I think it’ll look especially nice in Fall.  I like living here.

Hannah: I like the space to run around and I like the animals.

Abigail: We have so much fun outside checking on sheep and playing in the snow.WP_20160205_10_35_42_Pro

Caleb: I like living here a lot because it’s our home.

Micah: I like trucks.

Mom: How has your life changed since moving to the farm?

Elijah: I’ve been going outside more, checking on animals and picking up lambs.  I think I’ll be outside more in summer, too.  I’ll be running around the woods building tree houses.  I’m excited to hunt with Dad.

Hannah: I feel more free to run around.

Abigail: We don’t have a big neighborhood and we have animals and a barn.

Caleb: Now we have animals and I go out to see them.

Micah: Get shoes on and go outside. WP_20160205_10_05_07_Pro

Mom: What is something new you’ve learned on the farm?

Elijah: That animals are really fun to have.  You need to be quiet and gentle around animals.  You need to be careful where you walk in the woods so you don’t get scratched.  You also can’t touch fencing in case it’s electric.

Hannah: You shouldn’t be afraid of bugs.WP_20160205_10_07_01_Pro

Mom: What is something you would like to do or learn on the farm?

Elijah: To hunt, to build tree houses, to milk and collect eggs.  Chop wood and use sticks and logs in the woods to make tree houses and small play houses for the little kids.

Hannah: To collect eggs and care for the animals by myself, to learn how to milk the sheep and cow.

Abigail: How to be a real farm girl.

Caleb: I’m excited to start school and learn how to read.

Mom: What is your favorite animal on the farm? WP_20160205_10_02_06_Pro

Elijah: The lambs.

Hannah: The sheep.

Abigail: Cotton (Lyla’s ewe lamb)

Caleb: Cotton

Micah: Bunnies.  They hop and jump.

Mom: What has been your favorite part of the farm so far?WP_20160205_09_59_10_Pro

Elijah: Going out to check on the animals and holding the sheep.

Hannah: Getting the animals.

Abigail: Getting the cow.

Caleb: Seeing the animals with my family. WP_20160205_10_01_33_Pro

Mom: Finish the sentence: “Everyday I’m excited to…”

Elijah: Check on the animals and see what the next day has in store for me.

Hannah: See the animals.

Abigail: Look at the sheep and hold them.

Caleb: Play Legos with Micah.WP_20160205_09_59_43_Pro

Mom: How do you help on the farm?

Elijah: I bring the rabbits their water and feed Jack (our whippet).

Hannah: I helped get the sheep back into their pen when they got out.

Abigail: I help with the animals.

I hope they continue to learn, explore, and make great memories together here.  We’ve only just begun.  It will be interesting to see what each new season brings!

Warmly,

Becca