It’s taken a long time to get here, but the garden is finally starting to over perform. We’re getting regular harvests of beans, squash, corn and tomatoes — in addition to the lettuce, greens and brassicas we’ve been getting for some time now. It’s all really delicious. Every year seems to run a little different from the one before and maybe one year all the stars will align and we’ll do everything right.
With any luck, our bounty will keep going well into the fall.
Update: our finished elderberry jelly!
We’ve had a bit of a fox problem ever since moving out to the farm more than 4 years ago. We’ve ended up losing quite a few chickens, turkeys and even some of the waterfowl (though they’re normally pretty safe if they can get to the pond). We’ve chalked it up to the cost of doing business, because we free range our poultry. Surprisingly, it’s just the fox that’s been bothering us. We’ve never had any trouble with hawks or eagles eating our chickens.
This year got really bad. We eventually lost our entire flock. A couple months ago, we started a new batch of 15 baby chicks and we’ve been raising them int he coop since then. We got bold the last several days and let them out, but we lost 3 chickens on 2 separate occasions — so the fox is getting bolder (and possibly hungrier, since our free-roaming chickens were all eaten)*.
I think for the time-being, we’ve resigned ourselves to not being able to free-range our chickens, but I don’t want them to stay cooped up (so to speak) with no access to fresh air, grass and bugs. We need to build them a run.
Using some scrap fencing, posts and wood, I fashioned a prototype off the back of the coop. There’s a door on the side and this will give them a small area for exercise and fresh air. I definitely win some points for building something out of scraps.
Eventually, if this works (i.e., the chickens don’t all die), I think it would be good to buy some new materials and make the run 2-3 times bigger. Oh the ever changing challenges to raising small farm animals.
*We used to see wild rabbits running around, but I haven’t seen a wild rabbit on our property for a couple years now. It’s not just our chickens that the fox is eating. I think the fox lives somewhere in the field, too.
This year, the word “cultivation” keeps bumping around in my head. I finally feel like we are to the point in our lives, particularly as parents, when we aren’t simply just hunkering down in the trenches trying to emerge from the battle unscathed. Not that the last decade has been *all* like that, but growing, birthing, and raising babies is certainly taxing. Our kids are at the age when they can be largely self-sufficient for a while, allowing both Mike and I to work on a project together, or at best, they are helpful. It is a very nice feeling.
We are currently in our fifth growing season on our farm. We had a small raised bed garden in our previous house as well, so this is officially our thirteenth growing season. My interest in the garden often waxes and wanes. For the past few years it has felt more like a chore than something I enjoy. The rewards are certainly worth it, but it hasn’t brought me enjoyment in the way other things have (like sewing or cooking).
This year is different. Part of this is due to the fact that we have spent the past year getting our bodies back in shape. Clearly, eating mostly vegetables is key to maximizing nutrition while at the same time feeling full and satisfied. We still eat our fair share of meat, but vegetables are certainly the bulk of each meal. Additionally, spending 4-6 hours (or more) each week hoeing the garden does some amazing things for your arms and waist. I feel like I have put more into this garden, than any garden in the past. Part of that is the motivation I have, but a large part of that is learning what does and doesn’t work for us and our land. And so, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the previous five growing seasons.
*all of the garden pics for each year were taken during the last week of June/first week of July
This was the first year of our garden. We raised a pair of pigs over the winter, and come spring, we fenced them in on the land that would become the garden. They turned the soil and fertilized for us. Mike got a tiller for his tractor, and we put up fencing. This was our first summer on our farm, and like many new farmers, we bit off way more than we could chew. We had so many projects going on. We planted the garden, and did manage to get some food from it, but not much. We had fencing issues, and thus cows and poultry frequently invaded the garden. I got pregnant that August and therefore completely ran out of steam. I learned I have a pretty severe allergy to ragweed, which was our main crop of 2009
This was probably the most productive garden we have ever had. Our youngest was born in late April, just one week after we put in the early crops. A few weeks later, Mike and the kids planted all of the warm crops (tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc) and also put down black plastic as mulch, knowing we wouldn’t have much time for weeding. That year was HOT. We had 80F days in March and what I remember most about that summer was spending hours and hours in the basement or air conditioned bedroom with all the kids reading, watching movies, and sleeping. When I wasn’t doing that, I was harvesting. The big crop of that year was tomatoes. I must have gone through 500lbs, turning them into canned sauce, salsa, catsup, and barbecue sauce. I think I petered out towards the end and just started feeding most of the crops to the animals. We planted things too close together which made harvesting really difficult and that year we really learned what crops work best as neighbors. The black plastic kept much of the weeds down, but it is expensive and then dirty to pull up.
This is a very infamous year for our garden. Our youngest was now a one-year old and I didn’t have the time or energy for a garden. We planted anyway; early crops in April and later crops in May. Instead of black plastic, we used old hay as mulch. We got an amazing strawberry crop that year and I think some good lettuce. Then, just around July 4th, Mike accidentally left the garden gate open and the sheep all got in and ate everything. It was complete and total devastation. I remember being doubly upset b/c it happened after I had spent two days weeding. That was the end of the 2011 garden. As it happened, it was a year of heavy rainfall, including Tropical Storm Irene and our pigs’ area flooded. So, we just put them in the garden and called it a wash.
This was a good garden year. We had missed having all of the fresh produce from the year before, and knew we wanted to get in shape so felt motivated to make the garden productive. We had learned so much from the past few years. We spaced things out better, used a combination of black plastic put down early, but then pulled up before it got covered with the plants, and mowing paths between rows. We got our first big asparagus harvest that year and for the most part, everything (except tomatoes) grew really well and we had all we wanted for fresh eating and were able to can tons of pickles and freeze tons of squash. The weather wasn’t the best (alternating dry and wet spells) and it was rather cool. But, all in all, we were very happy.
As of this moment, this garden is doing okay. It was been very cool and wet this year, so the more heat loving plants are all a bit smaller than normal. All of the early crops are flourishing, however. This has been my most weed-free garden ever. I go out and hoe the entire thing about every three days, and this weekend, I was able to get the oldest child to take a first pass in the rows, while I followed behind him getting right around the plants. We haven’t put down anything for mulch, except for hay around the space we are dedicating to pumpkins and gourds. We have been eating our fill of lettuce, asparagus, radishes, chard, kale, peas, and beets. In the next two weeks I expect we should have squash and cukes. Our potatoes seem to have some issues, either a blight, or just issues due to all of the rain. I am hopeful that the corn, tomatoes, and winter squash all take off soon. We also hope to finally utilize the grow tunnel for crops later this year to really extend our growing season.
We were lucky enough to get a visit from a bald eagle a couple weeks ago. These are the best pictures we could get. We saw something down by the pond, waddling awkwardly on the ground. He/she looked pretty big compared to our geese and ducks. Mike ran to get his camera with zoom lens and caught him just as he was flying off.
We’ve heard that bald eagles live along the Connecticut River (which is 20-30 miles west of us). Perhaps this guy is passing through or lives along the closer Quinebaug River.
Here’s an interesting snippet from the CT DEEP Fact Sheet on bald eagles.
The bald eagle was no longer a nesting species (extirpated) in Connecticut by the 1950s. When Connecticut’s first official Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species List was passed in 1992, the bald eagle was classified as an endangered species. That same year, the state documented its first successful nesting of bald eagles since the 1950s when a pair raised 2 young in Litchfield County. Leg bands revealed that the nesting pair came from a reintroduction project in Massachusetts sponsored by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Five years later, a second pair of bald eagles successfully nested in Connecticut. The nesting population has increased gradually and, in 2010, 18 pairs of bald eagles made nesting attempts in the state. Nesting attempts or territorial pairs have been documented in 6 of the state’s 8 counties. Due to the increase in nesting pairs in recent years, the bald eagle’s status in Connecticut was reclassified as threatened in 2010.
It was very exciting seeing this visitor to the farm, hopefully the bald eagle population will continue to increase.
This is the time of year when two weeks makes a huge difference in the garden. We are now in the early phases of large harvests that require us to preserve some of the food (and share it) as we are bringing in more than we can consume. The big surprise of the week was the strawberries.
This is what is left of my lovely strawberry patch. I didn’t think it would be at all productive and since the plan is to till this space under in the fall, I just left it to go to weeds. Imagine my surprise when we pulled out just under 7lbs of berries this morning! We will be making a few pies and also our first batch of jam for the year.
I continue to harvest huge bowls of greens, chard, and roots crops. This morning we also picked our first crop of broccoli. The plants will produce smaller heads all summer long if we keep them trimmed.
Please enjoy the tour of all of the things we are growing right now. I love food in a transitional state. Not ripe and ready, but filled with possibility.
We’ve had our cold hardy plants in the garden for about a month (since late April). These include our brassicas, peas, carrots, radishes, greens, onions and potatoes.
Come Memorial Day, we usually plan on a ton of outside work. We start by mowing back the weeds that have grown up on the unused side of the garden.
Here’s a picture of the “mowed” garden. That green stuff is a lot of lamb’s quarters (which we really should work into our wild food diet like we’ve done dandelions and nettles).
And after tilling:
Gotta love my 6-foot King Kutter tiller on the back of my tractor. It makes short work of whatever we throw at it. We leave a path around the edges for walking and mow that like regular lawn.
Jamie spent a good bit of the day weeding and thinning the cold-hardy plants before sowing the rest of our seeds and putting out seedlings.
We planted beans, cucumber, winter and summer squash, tomato, pepper, basil, eggplant, corn and flowers.
Our other project is replenishing our chicken laying flock which was decimated this year by our indigenous fox population. Our 15 2-month old chickens are safely maturing enclosed in our chicken coop. We have white leghorns and red sex-linked hens (similar to Rhode Island Reds).
Our cows meanwhile haven’t been too happy with the relatively dry spring. Their pasture hasn’t come in like it usually does. Our neighbor was gracious enough to give us some hay her horses weren’t eating (cows are much less picky than horses). They were happy for the extra forage.
Here’s our lovely Belted Galloway-Dexter crossed cow who will be going to butcher this coming winter (~January 2014).
I have WAY to many things in my studio. Too much fabric, way too much wool, and I have found that having so many things has been stifling my creativity. So, I have opened up an etsy shop to destash things that I am willing to let go of. I have included some incredible fabric bundles and some wool. I may add more things over the next few months. If you have a chance, please check it out.
I hope that everyone who engages in the act of mothering has a wonderful day filled with love and gratitude.
It felt like spring would never come this year. Finally, all of the trees and flowers are starting to bloom and the world is turning greener every day.
We love making meals from food we raise. We love making meals from food we find even more. Today we had a lovely wild lunch. I made a nettle soup (2 qts chicken stock, 1 large basket of nettles, one onion; boiled and then pureed; salt, pepper, nutmeg), dandelion tempura, and two tiny fish nuggets from a Calico Bass that the big boys caught today. We also had fresh bread, a salad with asparagus from the garden, and some baked sweet potatoes.
It was a great lunch on a lovely day and a nice way to start the growing season.
Our first blossoms are finally here. Our two Stark Sweetheart Dwarf Apricot trees blossomed over the last several days. It was truly a wondrous sight, given our long cold winter. We’re hopeful that our fruit trees will be big producers this year.
Miss C loves the smell of the blossoms. She’d smell them so much she started sneezing. We told her to be careful and not pull off too many flowers or we wouldn’t have as much fruit later on.
The rest of our trees (Apples, Pears, Nectarines, Peach, Plums and Cherries) are still pretty early. They have buds but no blossoms yet. Hopefully within the next week or so they’ll be in full bloom as well and it should certainly be beautiful. Given that today’s high was 44° F and it was breezy, I think we’re ready for spring to really get going.
More at Flickr.
Last April, we created a post showing the vast difference in the amount of rain we’d gotten in early spring. As a point of comparison, here’s this year’s pond:
Versus last year (April 2012), during a severe drought:
Versus 2 years ago (April 2011), “normal”:
Our pond goes through quit a variation during the year. For instance, during Summer 2010, it almost dried up (the lowest it’s been since we moved here):
And other years (Summer 2011), it’s looked lush.
It’s just a matter of the rainfall and weather patterns we find ourselves in. After moving to the farm and having such variation, we’ve come to the understanding that there is no normal weather. It’s always changing and every year and season is different.
It’s particularly telling when it comes to our fruit trees. April last year and the year before, the blossoms were out:
And this year, there’s barely a peep (so sad, but they’ll be here eventually):
If you like year-on-year comparison, check out these others: