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Posts Tagged ‘garden’

Not *quite* two years, but close enough – yikes!

 

It has been a somewhat…eventful…couple of years, too.  Hubby went back to school to get some education in web development, and we had to sell the goats in order to find the time for him to work school in around acreage maintenance and childcare, but he got his certificate with high honors, and we’re casually looking at goats again.  I’ve had some health challenges, and have been trying to keep my graphic design / illustration business afloat through the crazy time challenges we’ve had.

 

On the bright side, we’ve continued expanding our knowledge and refining our garden, and the orchard is coming along nicely – we harvested a 5-gallon bucket of apples last fall, as well as crabapples, chokecherries, black and red currants, highbush cranberries, sour cherries, grapes, strawberries, and raspberries; we’re expecting the plums and pears to start bearing in the next couple of years, too.  We end up drowning in squash every fall, and I’m getting pretty good at inventing ways to eat them.

 

We’ve kept the chickens, too, and have added a few breeds to the roster.  We got Cochins last year, and we’re hoping that we’ll get some broody hens out of the deal, who will raise our chicks for us, and save us all the fussing with heat lamps and such.

 

I’ve got (yet another) ambitious order of trees coming for spring, and we’re looking at plowing up another garden bed, as we’re running out of room in the smaller one by the barn; I ordered some roses, too, to prettify the place, now that we have most of the fruit trees we really wanted.  Perhaps I will find some time to post about our growing, picking, cooking, and preserving again this summer!  Meanwhile, here is a little photo of the kids, who are also growing like weeds:

The kids, reading

I can’t believe I’ve got a child old enough to read!

 

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Whew, it’s been a busy summer…and fall!  Between gardens, goats, chickens, baby, and business, we’ve been living at a dead run since about May!

The pile of squash leaves after the frost (and one wheelbarrow of harvested squash)

The pile of squash leaves after the frost (and one wheelbarrow of harvested squash)

As a quick update, Hubby’s garden turned out great – moving it up close to the barn was a wonderful idea – it got a lot more attention when we were walking past it twice a day, and most everything thrived, including the squash, which went wild and started taking over the lawn, and the mangel beets, which we’ve never had any success with before, but managed this year to grow one nearly as tall as toddler M:

Finally a success with mangel beets!

Finally a success with mangel beets!

The goats loved those beets, too!  Too bad we only grew a few test plants.  Perhaps next year…

 

One drawback to having the garden so near the livestock was discovering just how much damage chickens can (and will) do to developing squash.  While it didn’t cause us too many issues in the end (we pulled in two wheelbarrows of pumpkins and spaghetti squash, plus a bit!), it was disappointing to see at the time:

What free-range chickens will do to the pumpkin patch...

What free-range chickens will do to the pumpkin patch…

 

We had planted a couple of garden beds to flowers, just to keep the grass and weeds from taking over, as we wanted to reduce our garden workload as much as possible.  I was pretty happy to be picking myself a bouquet of glads for my birthday – an unplanned bonus.  Hubby may be digging me more flower beds when we get serious about the garden again!

 

These guys grew with a surprisingly minimal amount of fuss and attention

These guys grew with a surprisingly minimal amount of fuss and attention

 

Fortunately, Baby J has turned out to be quite a laid back baby, and we’re doing much better in the sleep and getting-stuff-done departments than we were with toddler M at a similar age.  This is not to say we’re accomplishing a whole lot, but rather, our extensive baby preparations have allowed us to more-or-less keep up with the basic work, rather than falling terribly behind!

 

Baby J

Baby J

 

Hopefully now that winter’s finally here (it’s been hovering between -25 and -30 for close to a week!) I will be able to get to some of the stuff that’s been on the back burner during our busy seasons…including blogging!  I don’t promise to get back to weekly posts just yet, but you will be hearing more from me than in the recent past.

 

Now, off to figure out the breeding roster for the goats!

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Well, things continue to be hectic around our place, with garden harvest and the rush to finish outdoor projects before the snow comes (our first frost will probably be next week already).  It’s hard to type while holding a baby, and it seems that if I am not pulling onions or cooking dinner or trimming goat feet, I am pretty much always holding a baby!  So, instead of a rambling blog post, here are a few pictures of the things that are keeping us busy:

 

squash harvest 2014

 

squash is taking over the garden!

squash is taking over the garden!

random hens

 

Grapes in Saskatchewan?  You bet!

Grapes in Saskatchewan? You bet!

 

so cute!

so cute!

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Riches

We knew it was going to be a busy summer, and it has lived up to expectations.  A toddler and a new baby, on top of the goats, chickens, garden, and regular maintenance work has us feeling like we’re going 100 miles an hour, all the time!  Hubby has even wished out loud that winter would just hurry up already, so we can rest a bit.  I completely disagree, and want summer to go on and on, but then again, I haven’t been doing any of the heavy work.

 

Our garden has exceeded expectations.  The squash is taking over the lawn, and we have so many beans and zucchini that I’ve been selling them to colleagues.  For a garden that is less than a quarter of the size of the original, it is really producing!  We do need more space – we did not grow potatoes or corn this year, and the garden bed is packed so tight that we have to do quite a bit of watering, but the yield so far is still more than I expected.

 

2014 garden

 

A shot of the other side of the garden, where the squash is really going nuts:

 

squash in the lawn

 

We also have raspberries coming out our ears.  I love raspberries – they are one of my favorite fruits, but they are always expensive, and often hard to find, outside of the little $5 clamshell packets from California.  So, our first year here, I planted lots of raspberry canes.  I probably overdid it.  No, I definitely overdid it.  We ended up with two 80 foot rows of berry plants, that have since grown together into one massive raspberry patch:

 

raspberry patch

I don’t really mind, though.  We have more berries than we can pick or use right now, but what we don’t use, the birds and other wildlife will appreciate.  In fact, I hadn’t really thought about it, but that huge raspberry patch is excellent habitat for a whole lot of critters, ranging from the fairly enormous “ohmygod what on earth is THAT” bugs that I’ve never seen before, but which were out in abundance this year, to spiders and even finches.  While I was picking, I came across a bird’s nest with a baby bird and all!   I saw it just in time to avoid knocking it off its perch, so I carefully marked the spot so that I could come back with the camera, then avoid that bit of the patch until the little bird had grown up:

 

goldfinch nest

I am pretty sure this is a goldfinch nest, mostly because they are the only common bird around here that I know of that nests in the fall.

 

Looking around at all of the bounty we have here to use and share, I truly feel rich.

 

raspberries

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We picked two big mixing bowls of strawberries, today.   The berries were huge huge and sweet and still warm from the sun.

 

acreage strawberries

 

I chopped seven cups for the freezer.  Martha Stewart would freeze them nicely on cookie sheets, then package them up once they were frozen, so they didn’t stick together.  I am not Martha Stewart.  I pre-measure the packages to the sizes my recipes call for, throw them in vacuum-sealer baggies, and go to town.  We just break them up and throw them in the blender for smoothies, anyways, or thaw them for baking and such.

 

acreage strawberries

 

This is way beyond the hundred mile diet.  This is a zero mile diet.  Those berries came from literally just out my front door!

 

 

Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door

Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door

 

 

Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door

Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door

 

We planted about 100 plants in four little patches, in 2011.  We got fifty of an everbearing variety, and fifty of a June bearing variety.  For whatever reason, all of the plants are going nuts right now.  Last week, we put seven cups in the freezer, plus I took strawberries to work for lunches.  This week was much the same; seven cups for the freezer, plus plenty to eat!

 

eating strawberries

The taste is incomparable.

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The weather has been odd, at best, this year.  Spring was very late for us; we still had snow on the north sides of the hedges on Victoria Day, which is the third weekend in May.  Then we had a couple weeks where it was hot and dry, then it decided to rain…and rain…and rain…

 

A week ago Friday, we got three inches of rain in a few hours.  Our normal annual precipitation is 12 to 14 inches.  Of course, there hasn’t been a normal year since we moved here in 2011; it’s been one wet year after another.  It’s gotten to the point that the roads are so soggy that they dissolve under any sort of heavy traffic, like, for instance, tractors out doing seeding, and car-swallowing potholes appear more or less overnight.  As well, with the ground saturated to begin with, the roadside sloughs creep a little higher with every rain, until the roads are underwater, or just wash away entirely.  Of the five routes i could normally choose from to get to work, we’re down to one, and there is a slough within a few inches of wiping that road out, as well.  If it came to it, I could take a ferry to the other side of the river, but that would add an hour or so to my commute.

 

Today, the rain finally stopped for a bit, and some of the roads started drying out.  We took a peek in the garden, and it’s…bad.  Really bad.  Like chest-high thistles bad.  On the bright side, from our vantage point, we could see potatoes, onions, lots of beans and sunflowers, some squash plants, and some corn, so at least the rain did not rot all the seed. We couldn’t see the carrots, spinach, or beets, but I don’t know if that was because they haven’t sprouted, or if they’re just obscured by weeds.   Now, we just have to go in there and find our vegetable rows in all that weedy mess…

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Garden Porn

Well, it’s that time of year again – the dead of winter doldrums have hit, so the seed companies take advantage by sending out their brightly-colored little catalogs of garden porn.  Naked seeds, laying suggestively on colorful cloths, dirty carrots, blushing tomatoes…the pictures on those shiny pages are enough to make any gardener shiver.  And covet.  And spend far more money than was strictly necessary, on things that there isn’t necessarily enough space for in the garden…yet…

 

Seed Catalogs

 

I always spend hours pouring over these catalogs, wanting.  Wanting to try all the different varieties, wanting to see how they grow, how they taste, what they really look like in my garden.  I have discovered that most of these things aren’t really suitable for neglectful gardeners in zone 2 dryland, where even hardy tomatoes and peppers and melons need a lot of watering and covering and coddling.  It does not seem to stop me, however.

 

This year, I am trying a new tactic to combat over-spending on seeds.  I wrote out a list of every vegetable we actually eat, then allowed myself to order a couple or three varieties of each of those.  I’m getting two kinds of beet, for instance (Cylindra, and some golden variety, though I have not yet decided which one).  I’ll get three types of dry bean, maybe four (Jacob’s Cattle, Red Kidney, Black Turtle, and maybe a Maine Yellow Eye), and two types of wax bean.  We already know which varieties of peas, carrots, wax beans, turnips, and onions we like, so those are easy.  I am debating about whether to try hybrids for cucumber, summer squash, and broccoli; we have not had as good of luck with these as I would have liked.  I am totally stuck when it comes to squash, though; even if I allow myself two types of pumpkin and three other winter squash varieties, I can’t narrow it down to that.  I love squash so much, and it’s a go-to storage veggie for us, so I might just get one of everything!

 

For the things we have never tried (kohlrabi), that are marginal (artichokes), and ones we’ve never had any luck with (melons), I am setting a ‘fun budget’.  This is a budget of money, but also a budget of garden space.  While we have more room than we will ever need for gardens, there is only so much space Hubby can actually manage to keep weeded, watered, and picked, so we’re in heavy negotiations over what is reasonable, and what is completely crazy.   Anything we agree on will still probably be overly ambitious, as we’re both total optimists about the garden, but maybe we can pare back a bit from the 8,000-plus square foot (literally!) monster that we began with.   Of course, I’m still looking at two types of artichoke, several melons, a couple of novelty gourds, and so forth; ‘restraint’ is kind of relative…

 

We are also looking at trying some new tactics with the gardens.  The main bed is currently located a long ways from the house, past two hedges, and through a large patch of grass that will hopefully be fenced off and turned into goat field sometime soon.  It is not very accessible, and it’s out of sight, which means we forget to weed and water as often as we should.  We want to move the garden to a more obvious and accessible location, though we don’t have any place close to the house that is big enough.  What we hope to do is plow up as many as four new beds, in various places between the house and the barn, and near the barn, where we are more likely to weed/water/pick, because we will be seeing them more frequently.  As well, this would resolve the issue of how to juggle garden duties with caring for Baby M; the new locations would be near shady protected spots where a baby could be parked in a play pen, rather than being out in a hot, exposed, windy open field.  We will have to wait for the snow to melt in order to measure up the patches, but we think we’ve found enough places to make this work.

 

So back to the picture-circling for me…I’m sure in two months I’ll be complaining about where to put all my seed starts, but the looking and wishing and choosing sure is fun!

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Back in the 2011 garden, we bought a few packets of soup-type beans, and planted a few experimental rows.  Then, things got hectic, and we just pulled the plants the night before the first frost, roots and all, and hung them upside down in the pantry to dry out and await shelling.  Of course, the busyness never ended, and the beans did not get shelled.  Until the last couple of days, when I finally decided to clean and organize the pantry!  So, here it is:  an extremely belated report on the dry beans from the 2011 garden (with pictures):

 

 

We planted four types of dry beans, plus chick peas.  The chick peas were a total bust; they had developed decent-sized pods, but the peas themselves did not fill out at all, and were just teeny lumps inside those huge pods.  It might have just been a bad year, or we may have gotten a variety that needs a longer season than we have; however, I am pretty sure that there are farmers in Saskatchewan growing chickpeas, so we’ll probably give them another try, eventually.

 

The Papa de Rola were probably the prettiest bean, but were unfortunately the lowest-yielding:

 

 

 

The red kidney beans did okay, but again, not a spectacular yield:

 

 

The Jacob’s Cattle beans are also gorgeous, but again not all that high-yielding:

 

 

 

The highest yield was from the Pinto beans:

 

 

It took me maybe an hour and a half (interrupted by a screaming child on two occasions, so I am not certain of the exact amount of time) to shell all of these beans.  A fair bit of work, but not bad for several meals’ worth of beans.  I started out being kind of disappointed at how few beans there were, but then I thought about it for a bit – we planted a standard sized seed packet of each type (so basically a small handful of each), then did not water the beans at all, and hardly weeded them, either.  They probably would have all had much better yields had we taken proper care of them.  Although they take up a fair bit of garden real estate (we made a row per packet, and each row was probably 25-30′ long), we have the space to grow these, and they increase the fertility of the garden, being a nitrogen-fixing legume.  Also, the goats love to eat the leftover plant parts, even dried!  I am plotting to grow maybe two or three times as many rows next summer (or maybe even more!), and will trial some other varieties, to see what we like best – I would like to have some sort of black bean in the garden, too.  Like most of the other garden stuff, it takes a surprising amount of work to grow your own, and it shocks me all over again at how cheap grocery-store food is.  However, considering they taste great, go in about half our recipes, and keep more or less forever, dry beans will stay on our growing list.

 

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I am not detailing the harvest from the acreage, this year.  We were gone when we should have been planting (due to the birth of Baby M), and gone when we should have been harvesting (due to my sister’s wedding), so our garden did not amount to all that much.  We have half a small rubbermaid container of carrots, about as many beets, and perhaps twice as many potatoes.  We managed to put away some peas, and a fair bit of fruit, but I have not done any canning at all.  I bought my pumpkins from the farmer’s market, and was given a bunch of squash by neighbours.  Mom is bringing us a few things from her own garden surplus, and Hubby’s mom did the same earlier in the year, so it’s not like we’ll starve (fat chance) or be reduced to *gasp* buying carrots or anything.   Our onions did really well, though, and we got a decent harvest of tomatoes.  Sort of.

 

We harvested the tomatoes on Sept 8th, by pulling the plants by the roots, then storing them on the basement floor to ripen while we were gone to my sister’s wedding in Alaska. We did not do anything more with them until approximately 3 weeks later.

 

Not sure of the exact harvest weight, but a significant percentage (maybe close to half) had gone bad in the 3 weeks they were on the floor. They probably should have been hung up, as the side of each plant not touching the floor had significantly fewer rotten ones. Also, Hubby did not realize that the Black Krim toms were supposed to look like that, and he disposed of several which were probably fine. Similarly, he did not realize about the Green Zebras staying green, so we failed to pick numerous ripe tomatoes on time before they rotted. Note to self: let Hubby know when you’re planting unusual varieties that may perform differently from usual expectations.

 

Hubby is eating the cherry tomatoes as they come ripe, and quite enjoying them.

 

I cut up a roasting pan full (and I mean overflowing full) of ripe tomatoes, and roasted them at 250-275 for about 15 hours over two days. I was scared to leave them unsupervised overnight, but actually I could have done so without worries, early in the process – they don’t seem to need a lot of stirring until after they have reduced by about 30-40%. Next time, I’d chop them in the afternoon, and throw them in the oven in the evening to cook overnight and all the next day. Then I’d process them the next afternoon / evening.

 

I processed the roasted tomatoes after they had reduced to less than 50% of their original volume, and started to get a bit browned . Processing involved throwing the pulpy mess into the food sieve and mashing through until all the pulp was separated from the skins and seeds. That took maybe 15 minutes. This year, I then packaged it in ziplocs and threw it in the freezer; it could also easily be canned. I just did not have enough to bother with running the canner. I got 5 cups of tomato sauce that was about halfway between the consistency of commercial tomato sauce and commercial tomato paste – quite thick. I packaged it in 1-cup containers, as I think I will likely thin it down with water for most recipes. The flavor is very intense.

 

This was SOOOO much easier than peeling, seeding, chopping, and boiling (especially with trying not to burn) like we did back in 2009; I could actually see trying to process multiple bushels this way, especially if you had enough deep pans, like roasters and cake pans. It would be most efficient to fill the oven with as many pans as would fit, I think, and you still wouldn’t be left with an overwhelming amount to process in the end. In fact, you would need several deep roasters going just to get a canner load worth of finished sauce.

 

This used up about 40% of our tomatoes (and all of the ripe ones, except cherry toms for Hubby). If the rest ripen in large enough batches, they will receive the same treatment.

 

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Last spring, I had hubby make me up a bunch of nice round beds in the front yard, to plant herbs and flowers in.  Then I got enthusiastic, and ordered 100 strawberry plants – 50 June bearing and 50 everbearing.  I had planned to build raised beds for them, but did not get around to it in time, so they wound up taking over my herb gardens.  Then, Hubby kindly dug me another herb bed this year, but I saw some strawberry plants on sale this spring, and…you get the picture.  Someday I’ll have a herb garden, though, I swear!

 

The June bearing berries had a great crop, but unfortunately a lot of them rotted on the plants, as I was in the hospital and then slightly distracted with the newborn and C-section recovery, and we just had our hands full.  We did pick several large containers, though, and get them into the freezer for future smoothies.  The everbearing plants have also been doing well, with great, big, sweet berries.  I thought the everbearing plants would never really bear enough at one time to bother with making preserves or digging out the vacuum sealer, but I was wrong.  A couple of days ago, I picked enough berries to put 8 cups in the freezer, with plenty left over for us to eat fresh.  And, there were still a ton of nearly-ripe berries still on the plants that we’ll probably have to pick tomorrow or so.

 

We freeze the strawberries in 2-cup containers, as that’s the amount I use to make a batch of smoothies.  I will also freeze some (chopped smaller, mind you) in 2.5 cup containers, as I have a fruit coffee cake recipe that uses that amount.  It is much easier to freeze the berries in appropriately-sized packets in the first place.  Martha Stewart types will tell you to freeze them first on cookie sheets, then package them (they won’t stick together so badly that way), but I never have enough cookie sheets (or freezer space) to do that, so I just pre-measure them and quit worrying about it.

 

I am really impressed with the yield on these plants, despite neglect and lack of picking.  Next year, we should wind up with even more, as this year’s new plants will also come into production.  As usual, I may have over-estimated how many plants we really needed.  On the other hand, though, we really like strawberries, and somehow managed to demolish about 70 pounds of various types of home-frozen fruit over the winter, so maybe 125 plants won’t be overkill, after all…

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