Homestead Report 25: June 14, 2017

Veggies are all planted, the flowers are looking lovely, we had two 90 degree days in a row, and we just ate the first strawberries of the year–we’re starting to get a taste of summer!

Strawberries are pure bliss. At this point, we’ve spread the plants around our yard to the point that we can hardly remember all the places to look–but that is sort of the goal, because if we have that many, it doesn’t matter if the birds or voles or slugs destroy some berries. And it feels like a treasure hunt. We have two varieties: Seascape everbearing (which have already started to ripen, and last year went well into October, and are delicious, but don’t self-propagate well) and Honeoye Junebearing (which are also ripening now, but only go for a few weeks, and make TONS of daughters for us to spread around).

Aside from strawberries, the honeyberries are ripening. This is our first time eating them. Honeyberry is an edible blue-fruited honeysuckle, with a flavor somewhere between cherries and blueberries. I think they aren’t fully ripe yet, though the one I tried was tasty even so.


Just about everything is planted in the vegetable garden, which is a good thing, because I had minor hand surgery last week and can’t play in soil until I’m all healed up. The tomatoes are looking vigorous and a few have started to flower. The beans (soy, green, black, lima, kidney, pole) are all sprouting. The last few days have been HOT–in the 90s. Today was very pleasant though, after a storm front came through last night.

The flowers by the driveway have really started in earnest. Lots of irises, bachelor’s buttons, lupines, chives, red yarrow, garden heliotrope/ valerian, Canada anemone, campanula–a purple clustered bellflower, garden loosestrife, and more.

And all those flowers are making the bugs happy. The valerian was abuzz all afternoon, mostly with little cuckoo bees (in the Nomada ruficornis species group) with two yellow spots, and drone flies (Eristalis tenax) that look a lot like bees if you aren’t paying close attention. Charley says the drone fly larvae are rat-tailed maggots and live in sewage. The adults seem nice enough, though.

Last week the phoebe babies were practically bursting out of their nest atop a light fixture in the woodshed. They fledged on Friday, June 9th.

The bluebirds fledged a while ago, but can still be seen occasionally harassing their parents for food. Tree swallows, likewise, fly over in formation, the young ones chasing their parents, begging, though they seem fully capable of foraging on their own.


The ticks and black flies seem less abundant this week, though mosquitoes are picking up. The young chickens are happy to eat cabbage white caterpillars as well as ticks and cutworms tossed to them. They are supposed to be preparing that area for corn seedlings to be planted, but they seem to be letting the mustard go to seed.

I just can’t resist the beauty of lupines. In the story Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, the lupine lady is instructed as a young girl to do something to make the world a little more beautiful. That certainly doesn’t always mean planting flowers, but these ones sure do their part.




Weekly Homestead Report 9: October 10, 2016

Pictured here: fall’s finest bird food (poison ivy) and aster eye candy! This week a number of longstanding items got crossed off of our big to-do list, and in the process, we learned important lessons about timing harvests.

  • sweep chimney (nothing too bad, here)
  • dig potatoes (grrrrr! voles!)
  • pick and shell dry beans (oh, no! mold!)
  • pick popcorn (oh no, mold again! But not too bad.)
  • harvest remaining watermelon (gah! overripe!)

The dry beans seemed to be doing well last time I checked, but the last two weeks of wet weather caused some of them to get moldy instead of dry. I’ve been doing a rescue operation to try to salvage most of them. I could have picked the whole plants and hung them in the shed to dry, giving up the possibility of the younger pods ripening, but thoroughly drying those that had already made beans. Instead, I’ve been shelling not-quite dry beans, throwing out the ones that are slimy or moldy. There are still a bunch in the field that aren’t ready, but some weeding and propping up collapsed plants to allow greater air flow makes me think they’ll successfully dry on the vine. Lessons for next year…

Digging the potatoes really made me mad, because about 2/3 of the potatoes are damaged—some almost completely eaten—by voles.  Voles seem to be one of our main garden pests. We’re out there all winter shoveling the snow away from our fruit trees so it doesn’t top our hardware-cloth vole guards (they would happily eat all the bark they can get to under the snow, thereby girdling our trees). Next year, I will try to harvest potatoes early to mid September when the vines die back instead of waiting until October to harvest. My strategy was to “store” them where they were, to minimize their time in my root cellar, hopefully maximizing the length of time they would last before trying to sprout. If waiting allows the doggone voles eat them before I even get to them, though, that’s far worse than knocking a few sprouts off and eating slightly squishy (but intact!!) potatoes in March.

When I picked the first ear of dry popcorn, I panicked to find a tiny amount of mold… but it was just on a few ears, luckily. I spent an hour in the afternoon shucking the corn and crafting corn husk dolls to distribute to some of the kiddos in my life. This was satisfying.

When we picked the watermelons in anticipation of another frost tonight, we found that we had waited too long on some of them, and they centers around the seeds had deteriorated beyond enjoyment. This is truly a tragedy.

Because the Nantucket Conservation Foundation is hosting its annual cranberry festival this weekend, we decided it must be time to eat ours. Delicious!

We noticed some doll’s eyes, the creepy fruit of white baneberry, Actaea pachypoda. 

As for the chimney sweeping, it was a good opportunity to view the yard from on high.