Morning Walkabout

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This will be a photo heavy post today – just to give you a glimpse of the place right now.  It also serves as a record for me.

Each morning starts with picking up my handy bug zapper.  It’s deer fly season and this has proven itself to be a necessity.

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The patio garden – to my right as I cross the driveway heading for the back forty.  This is an old garden, a friendship garden with almost all of the plants coming from people we know.  My mother worked on this from the summer we moved in, 1967.  It’s going to be renewed this summer since the lawn is really creeping in at this point and things are really crowded.

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Towards the back of the garage there is the newest perennial garden and in the foreground is the raspberry patch.  The raspberries are in their third year and are just starting to fill in.

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We take the road to the back forty, we being me and the dogs.  They know the drill and love being out there.  On the right is the sawdust building for the sawmill.  I don’t think it’s a crooked as it looks in the photo but you never know.

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As I walk around what used to be the back pasture the dogs spend their time sniffing whatever went on the night before.

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From the same spot (more or less) looking towards a road that goes back into the wood lot.  There’s a branch that goes to a stump dump where I’ve taken some very nice compost for the garden over the years.  Everything about gardening is waiting – years not months.

The tete-a-tete chair my father made is up there and it overlooks the pasture back up towards the house.  It’s the perfect spot to drink a morning cup of coffee or that martini in the afternoon.

140624 (15)As I walk the perimeter I check on the berries, deciding what I will net this year so I get more of a harvest than the birds.  These are blackberries and the birds pretty much get all of them – they probably scope them out more often than I do.

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This is the view from the back of the pasture – the table was too worn out for the patio but too solid to burn so there it sits.  Just one more thing to weed whack.

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From the same spot if you turn around you look into the woods towards the wood lot – there are also some old, empty beaver ponds back there as well.

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Back up into the driveway I noticed that this summer is the summer of potted plants for me.  I love the way they look and I’m here to take care of them now.  This is the well by the driveway.  Years ago we replaced the wood cover with stone fearing our kids would climb up on top of it and fall in.  I think it might be usable in an emergency but I wouldn’t want to drink out of it now.

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This is the view from the patio, it overlooks the vegetable garden, the new garden and the raspberries towards the back forty.  I have annuals in pots as well and tomatoes and cucumbers.

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Yes, cucumbers.  I was skeptical at first.  Bill brought two pots of these up that he got from the plant gypsy we have come to the shop in Enfield.  I told him they would never grow.  How wrong I was.  Now I’m looking for the seeds for next year.

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Across from the patio is another perennial garden that has morphed into all kinds of things over the years.  It’s now overgrown as well but I love having the pots for color.  It is also a place for the birds that we can watch from the table in the kitchen.

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Another crazy potted plant.  Its in a pedestal pot so I guess I could take the hanger off of it now huh?

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Heading for the front yard and looking back over the gardens – this is the relaxation spot for every part of the day.  I swear people that drive by only do when we are sitting in those chairs.  I figure they think that’s all we do.

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This is the vegetable garden from the chairs.  It’s slow but steady this year, about a week to 10 days behind last years.  It’s been quite cool.

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But the potatoes are doing great!

This is what I look at every morning (even if it rains).  I check my plants, take a walk, play with the dogs all in about 20 minutes time.  It gives me time to plan my day.  Look around at what needs doing and try not to get overwhelmed by the list.  Prioritize.  Breathe in the fresh air, stand in the sunshine, hug a tree, center.

Garden Dreaming

The Weeds Are WinningThis is the time of year when the grand garden dreams begin.  It has been bitter cold out and I’m sad to say the only outdoor adventures I have had in the past month is taking the dogs out twice a day. The snowshoes are waiting in the shed for another good snowstorm.

Like every project I have I start with truly unrealistic plans and then pare them down as the time grows shorter.  The list of seeds is pretty long this year with the hope that the spring weather will be decent and my plants will get a better start.  I plan to start everything at home rather than buying starts anywhere, including my onions.  In years past I just bought onion sets but last year I was unable to get Walla Wallas and was disappointed, this year I won’t leave it to chance.

There has been so much in the news lately about GMOs that I’ve decided this is the only way to go for me.  I can’t source anything anymore, you just have no idea where anything comes from and can’t trust what you’re told for the most part.  I never thought I would have to work so hard at knowing where my food came from.

I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that always had a large vegetable garden. We canned, froze or otherwise put by most of the food we ate.  We always grew our own beef, had chickens for a spell and raised a couple of pigs one time.  Having my food source close to me is nothing new but now there seems to be more of an urgency to it.  I thought it was just me being a little paranoid but having talked to a couple of medical professionals who are seeing more cancers in much younger people I’m thinking I’m not being over cautious.  When someone tells me they know of a 26 year old with breast cancer my first thought is their diet.  We have had decades now where our protein sources are laced with hormones and antibiotics all in the name of increasing production.  The same goes for our GMO crops.  Corn is in everything – every thing.  Even if you are trying to do right by your family if you are not reading labels (and reading into them) you simply don’t know what you are getting anymore.

So the grand plan is to plant a large variety in quantities that will get me through to the next harvest. Things that will keep in a root cellar, are good canned or dehydrated. In reading over the long seed list it would seem that my experiment for this growing season will be Dinosaur Kale and a savoyed cabbage.  Spinach will be in the mix as well.  I’ve grown it before but haven’t in a few years so it made the list.  The garlic and asparagus are in the ground both of them are experiments in themselves albeit really long term ones.

This weekend I will spend some time sitting by the wood stove, drinking coffee,  plotting out my garden space and ticking off the seed list to see what stays and what goes.  I will also do a viability test on some of the seed I have just to see what I really need.  I’ll try to sprout some of my popcorn as well because that was one experiment that worked particularly well.

Gold in the Back Forty

131027 Mushrooms This was an amazing sight to me the other day when I walked into the back forty.  It has been COLD for the past week and it was more than unexpected to see mushrooms growing.  The photograph doesn’t really do justice to how beautiful they are.  They are iridescent, like a pot of gold by a stump. They glowed on a cold, overcast day.

These mushrooms are called Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea). I had to ask my sister for a direction in identification and after a little research found a great description on The 3 Foragers.

As beautiful as they are the thought of cooking and eating them never crossed my mind.  The extent of my foraging is stumbling upon mushrooms of some sort, looking them up to see what they are and moving on.  “Mushrooms are poisonous” was drilled into my childhood brain.  Even mushroom foragers have a saying –  there are bold mushroom hunters, and there are old mushroom hunters — there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.

Words to live by.

Living in Two Places

130502 Back Forty Pond

I’ve lived in a few places. Work, family, friends, lovers have all taken me all over but I always have come back to Rowe.  A person I grew up with told me that this town was part of his soul, he hasn’t lived here since 1975.  I know that feeling, where you drive into a place over a familiar road not seen in a while and something happens, you feel it in your gut, that little flutter.  You know you are home.

I live in two worlds, fortunately they are close enough in distance so I can escape one for the other. Rowe

Just for my own comparison I snipped out the vital info about Rowe and Enfield.  Rowe with its 24 square miles and 393 people compared to Enfield with its 34 square miles and 44,654 people at last count. That means there is .49 acres per person in Enfield and 39.09 per person in Rowe.  No wonder I feel like I’m suffocating while I’m in CT.  That’s probably not a fair assessment but it does speak to the rural vs. urban/suburban situation I find myself in.

Enfield, CT

You will also notice the difference in temperature and dew point.  In the summer it’s a difference you notice, in the winter it’s night and day.  The growing season is at least 2 weeks ahead in Enfield.  The last frost is something we see at the end of April.  In Rowe there is nothing that goes into my garden earlier than Memorial Day – ever.

The one difference I truly notice is the quiet (and solitude).  In Enfield there is air traffic over our house close to 24 hours a day – we are on the landing path to Bradley in CT.  I think at night I can see the people sitting in their seats as they fly in for a landing.  The street we live on is very busy and we are within hearing distance of the railroad tracks where Amtrak runs during the day.  Yes, planes, trains and automobiles – the noise never ends.  Everyone is always in a hurry to get nowhere as well.  You have to be a fairly aggressive driver in this harried place.  In our spare time in Enfield we can work on the house (with our neighbors chatting us up over the fence), shop or eat at a chain restaurant.  I used to have very large perennial gardens around the house but it’s not the quiet, meditative project that it is in Rowe.  Now I look at what I can dig up and move, turning the yard back into something that can just be mowed.

When I get home to Rowe everything slows down.  The driving, the breathing, the thinking – once I arrive there is nowhere I need to be but there.  There is enough to keep me occupied for days on end without ever leaving the property.  I breathe the clean air, listen to the birds, contemplate life.  My bedroom window is open at least three seasons so I can hear the owls at night and the birds wake me up in the morning.  I can drink my cup of coffee watching the sun rise over the back forty and the mist dissipate in its heat.

I think everyone needs to find a place of peace if they are not living in it.  I think that’s why people appear to be so crazy right now or they have such health problems.  They are so far removed from the natural world that they are never grounded – at all.  The sad thing is so many never know what it’s like to be grounded in nature, they don’t understand how healing it can be.  I know people I see often that I just want to shake and say “Take an afternoon and go to a state forest and walk, breathe, listen!  Hug a tree, absorb the energy around you.”  And they would look at me with those eyes that say “You are nuts.”

Garden Economics

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This is my garlic harvest for this year.  A year ago about this time I was thinking I really needed to grow some of my own but when I went onto the High Mowing Seed website with the intention of ordering some and they were sold out.  Bummer I thought – then figured I’d order it for this year. Garlic is planted in the fall, like tulips and daffodils, it needs that fall and winter time to set out its roots.  It then blossoms in June or so and is ready to harvest in July (at least here it is).  The seed companies send out their garlic for planting the first week in October.

I moved on completely forgetting about the garlic. A couple of weeks later I received a package in the mail – a pound of garlic for planting from High Mowing.  I had forgotten that I had ordered it with my spring seeds back in February.  It felt like pennies from heaven because I’d paid for it back in February as well.

The garlic I had ordered is called Music.  It’s a hardneck variety which I know seems to do pretty well around here. I dug a nice bed for them in a sunny, well-drained sight and placed each clove about 3 to 4 inches deep, covered it and walked away.  When spring arrived it was the first plant out of the ground.  In June the blossoms, called scapes, emerge.  I pick all of them off – doing this puts the plants energy in forming bulbs.  The scapes are delicious – I chop them and cook them in eggs for breakfast but they are great in all kinds of things.  Two harvests from one plant.

Towards the middle of July the stalks of the garlic begin to turn brown from the ground up.  I’ve heard that timing is everything with garlic.  You don’t want to dig it up too soon- you want those bulbs as big as you can get them.  If you wait too long the bulb will no longer be tight, the cloves will have splayed out – ready to continue growing for another year.  I had to guess.  I waited until the plants were brown half of the way up the stalk and then I dug one out to see.  It was a thing of beauty.  I dug the rest.

Curing the garlic takes another 3 to 4 weeks. The skins dry to that thin paper we are all familiar with.  I just laid the whole plant on paper in the house and waited (of course a couple of bulbs were sampled along the way).  This weekend I cleaned and trimmed the crop. What you see in the photo is what I grew.  This was a pound of garlic cloves.  The cloves are very large on this garlic so it doesn’t take many to get to a pound.  For every clove you plant you get a bulb.

This garlic is so good I vowed to plant 3 times as much next year – the problem?  It would probably cost over $60 for the seed.

Bill and I gazed at these beautiful bulbs and decided that I would use most of what I grew this year as seed for next year.  It made me a little sad to think about not eating most of what was in the basket but I could quadruple the number of bulbs next year just by planting what was in front of me.  It was sort of a no brainer, but all I want to do right now is eat garlic mashed potatoes from the garden.

Oh What a Beautiful Morning

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There is nothing better than getting up just before the sun peaks over the mountains to the East.  The mist rises off of the back field and the sunlight begins to shine through it sending it’s rays to the ground.  This is the first day of our staycation here this summer.  Quiet, drinking my morning coffee in the field with the birds, once again connected with the earth and nature around me.

The dew is thick this morning and the one thing that keeps me from being relaxed is as the sun casts its light on the dew covered plants it accentuated every weed in the garden.  So after that quiet little interlude, soaking it all in, all I could think about was weeding the garden.  Sigh.

When A Plan Comes Together

130527 TillerAs most people know the holiday weekend began rainy and very cold for this time of the year.  When the sun came over the horizon on Monday morning I immediately got up, had coffee, dressed and went out to the garden.  I felt like I now had one day to do what I had planned on doing in three.  I spent the first couple of hours spreading fertilizer and tilling.  The photo above is what I looked at for quite a while.  I have to say in spite of the noise it’s quite meditative, especially walking behind it in the soft, tilled earth (smells great too).

The next chore was planting my asparagus (finally).  I was using bone meal and had to keep careful watch of the new bed – Chester thinks it smells heavenly and is sure if he digs something fantastic will come up.

I then got out my fence posts and paced off my garden design.  I put the teepee up in the center of the plot.  Then I divided up either end of the garden into the spaces I was planning for crops I would be planting.  I planted onions – red and yellow – on the north end along with the start of the tomatoes with the ones that Bill had bought from the flower gypsy.  I raked the soil for the four corners in the center where the corn will go and realized that I had a lot more space for other plants so made the decision to plant hills of squash and long pie pumkins.  So in essence it will be 3 sisters planting but in a more mannerly fashion.

I also planted the four pepper plants that Bill brought home next to the garage wall with the garlic.  There was space and it’s a nice warm, sunny spot, I thought they’d be happy there.

Later, while mowing some of my sister’s field (her mower broke last week), I saw her out planting her seeds and I have to tell you that my head was screaming “Go back and plant those seeds!” It’s May 27th though and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve planted things too early pushed by warm weather and sunshine.  The urge to plant something when it starts to warm up is powerful.  I remembered how many times I’ve had to replant things (2 and 3 times) because I was impatient and planted too early.  My seed will go in this coming weekend in what portends to be blistering heat and humidity but I’ll know the soil is warm enough.

With the lawn mowed and the garden structure there I took a couple of photos and thought about how nice it is when a plan comes together.  This is going to be a great garden.

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Beginning in Earnest

130526 (2) Garden PlanYesterday in the cold, rainy, windy weather I went through my seeds and actually drew up the garden plan.  It had been in my head for  a while just finally put pen to paper.  Today I plant the crowns and bulbs, put up the bean teepee and get out the seed potatoes.  Last night it was cold by any standard but the forecast for the rest of the week is warm and sunny.  By the 31st I should be able to put my seeds in the ground if the forecast holds true.  All of my seed comes from High Mowing Seeds in Vermont.  They are organic, non-GMO and many are open pollinated.  Honestly the best seed I have ever used.

I had taken all of my annuals in pots into the shed on Friday night, this morning I will go see how my lonely little eggplant fared. I will be mixing beans on the poles this year, I’ve planted just a green bean in the past couple of years but I really have missed the scarlet runners – and I’m assuming so have the birds.  I will also plant sunflowers in the corners with the popcorn.  I’m kind of taking for granted the popcorn will end up being fodder for raccoons but you never know.  This variety is Tom Thumb and only grows to a maximum height of 3 feet, I’m more than a little excited about this experiment.

We have a guy in Enfield we refer to as the flower gypsy.  He’s a wholesaler who has a van and goes from shop to shop selling cut flowers – this time of year annual pots and vegetables.  He comes around every other week or so with what he figures will sell for the season.  During the winter it’s always long stem roses from Ecuador.  Easter it’s lilies, cut flowers for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the shop the other day to four pepper plants and four tomatoes.  Bill always buys me flowers but apparently he’s been listening and bought food.  Hehehe, excellent, my plan is working, one person at a time.


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The first edible plant to arrive in my garden is rhubarb.  We eagerly look forward to it thinking about pies all winter long.  I have found no really effective way to preserve rhubarb that allows me to bake with it in the off season so we enjoy as much as we can while we can.

This particular rhubarb came from Bill’s grandfather’s property.  After he died and we were cleaning out the house for sale I walked the yard to see if there was anything I could transplant.  His back yard was very shaded and there was a very anemic patch of rhubarb in the back corner of the garage.  I dug it up and brought it to Rowe.  I planted it in front of a huge rock – it faces west.  The plants are shaded until noon during the growing season and I’ve found that really works well, it keeps it from bolting early in the season.  Last year I made a rhubarb pie in September and it was awesome.  I always thought if you didn’t get it in the spring that was it.

Being able to go out and pick something edible this time of year is a blessing.  Gives you hope for the rest of the season even if you haven’t planted anything yet.  I have garlic that looks amazing this year but I know I didn’t plant enough.  I will be tilling the garden this weekend barring any bad weather. I will set it up in anticipation of the ground warming to a temperature where I can plant most of my vegetables.  We had three nights below freezing this past week so I make it a rule to never plant before Memorial Day.

I’ve had a vegetable garden for about 8 years now in varying sizes and layouts.  I’m getting a grip on what grows and what will not and have had gardens through summers dry and hot, cool and rainy.  I think everyone should have a garden where they can grow something of their own to eat.  Our healthy choices are being taken away from us at a breathless pace.  I don’t believe if you go into a grocery store right now that you can have any clue where your food comes from or what goes into it.  You are being lied to on a daily basis about what’s organic or natural.  I figure if it says that on a package than it’s probably not.  Start using your farmers gardens.  They are springing up everywhere this time of year.  There may not be a lot of variety but soon there will be.  You’ll know that your veggies and herbs haven’t spent days in a truck coming to you from parts unknown.

The other thing I would add is if you plan on ever growing any of your food now is the time to start.  Gardens are slow motion works in progress, they can take years.  What works one year may not the next but those experiences are what help you to be a better gardener.  So many people I talk to think they can just put one in one year and it’ll be fine so they wait until they think they “really” need it.  Don’t wait, do it now, even if it’s just pots of tomatoes and basil.

Pear Blossoms

IMG_20130511_104220I wait eagerly for this each year.  The pear tree blossoming in the back forty.  It is always so beautiful, this year more so because I finally got down there to prune it.  Bill and I drove the tractor down next to the tree and took turns lifting each other in the bucket at different angles to cut off the suckers.  This tree has never been pruned and was rather overrun.  I used the lopping shears and he used his smallest chain saw.  It was more than a little scary being 15+ feet off of the ground and moving into a tree.  I think Bill’s ride was probably a little scarier since I don’t drive the tractor that often.  My ride was fairly smooth backwards and forwards, up and down.  Bill’s on the other hand . . . let’s just say next time he’ll probably opt for a ladder.  At Old Sturbridge Village they always said to prune your fruit trees so a cat tossed into it wouldn’t hit any branches.  Fruit trees like a lot of air.  With any luck we will have more than the one pear we got last year.  The spring has been more “normal” this year with a more gradual warmup so the blossoms didn’t come out too early.  As long as we get some pollinators out there we should be okay.

The patches of what looks like white in the field are bluets.  We always put off mowing the field until these have gone by, the patches get bigger every year.  They are like clouds in the grass.

It’s a drizzly, rainy day today but everything is looking wonderfully green and lush.  Something about it just soothes the soul after such a long, cold winter.