Homestead Report 27: another belated installment in a busy summer season

This is the time of year when I glory in bringing in the harvest. It never ceases to amaze that a tiny seed, given rain, sun, soil, and a little love, will grow into a great vigorous plant that miraculously produces big, juicy, delicious fruits that feed us until we can’t bear to eat any more.

We’re overrun with luscious fruit!! Over 55 peaches eaten fresh in just about 2 weeks of gluttonous delight! Everbearing strawberries are still producing. Tiny blueberry bushes loaded with berries. Raspberries dropping off the canes (but covered with horrid fruit flies). Watermelon, cantaloupe…

Vegetables are doing well too, for the most part. I’m swamped with produce to put up for the winter.

But I say “for the most part” because the tomatoes now have late blight. It’s horrible. The fruits get gross blisters and the whole plants wither and die.

My parents visited and we fixed the hoophouse that partially collapsed in the snow last winter. This fix makes me feel much more confident that we will survive the next big snowstorm without further damage, plus we can now walk through the central aisle without dodging boards.

I’ve also been working on our high porch railing, in part to keep all of our friends’ kiddos safe from a second story drop-off; previously the railing basically functioned as a ladder.

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The flowers are nice too…

Our hugelkultur bed succeeded in growing pumpkins and tomatoes, despite the fact that it is essentially still a pile of logs, sawdust, and grass clippings.

A few hen turkeys along with their mixed-age young like to journey through our yard frequently, eating grass seed and dust-bathing in the potato patch.

We found this gray tree frog resting on a grape leaf.

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Homestead Report 24: June 4, 2017

With this country pulling out of the Paris Accord, I feel extra drawn to wiggle my toes down into the soil and work a little harder at the things I can control to combat climate change. Mostly, that looks like growing as much of our food as I can (thereby relying less on harmful big-agro farming practices and transcontinental shipping), but also includes eating less meat, planting trees, talking to kids about nature, avoiding driving whenever possible, conserving power and producing solar power, working with the town to hopefully purchase renewable energy for town buildings (and eventually residences too), and advocating for (and against) various things with our state representatives. If we all work at different angles–conserving land, transitioning to renewable energy, building bike paths, growing food, we perhaps have a chance at averting some of the worst consequences of climate change; and failing that, we’ll at least have built a better community.

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We have been tremendously busy these last few weeks planting, planting, planting. I’ve even been selling some stuff at our little farmers market (seedlings, some greens, rhubarb, and eggs). Leaf miners are again so abundant that it is hard to take a walk without finding something new.

One of the most exciting things to do is watch fruit develop. We are eagerly anticipating eating peaches, blueberries, strawberries, apples, serviceberries, and sweet cherries.

Blackberries, goumi (like an autumn olive, but not invasive, at least in MA), mulberries, and black cherries are blooming, but don’t have fruit set yet.

Blooming wildflowers include wild geranium, golden alexanders (in the parsley family), rue anemone, phlox, wood hyacinth, blue-eyed grass (actually a tiny iris), azalea, columbine, and white campion (actually a non-native).

In the mostly nonnative perennial category, iris, lupine, comfrey, bachelor’s buttons, and violas are blooming. On June 2, I noticed the first hummingbird of the year visiting the comfrey flowers. It also visited pea and kale flowers inside the hoophouse! Luckily, it seemed to have no problem finding the exit.

We’ve eaten the last of the asparagus (choosing to let our plants have a rest and feed their roots) and I ate the first of the peas.

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We’re always looking at bugs, especially leaf miners, around here. You can find Charley proclaiming the glory of them on his blog, bugtracks–and I admit that I appreciate most of them too–but there is one, a fly that communally mines spinach and chard, that I could do without.

If we stay on top of eating the spinach, we end up just eating the eggs (no problem, just a little extra protein), but if we let it go a few days, the turn the leaves to mush, good for chicken food but not much else. I think I am starting to understand why people use row covers…

We moved our young chickens from the upper garden, where they prepared a few beds for me by scratching up all the weeds, into the lower garden. They are enjoying the mustard, as well as hopping out of their fence and scratching up my onion patch.

Goldfinches have been descending on our yard in big flocks to devour dandelion seeds. A few times, we’ve seen a gorgeous male indigo bunting joining in the feast. Speaking of bright, beautiful birds, we’ve been hearing scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Baltimore orioles regularly.

A chickadee is feeding young in one of our nest boxes. The bluebirds and tree swallows seem to have fledged, although we never did see the young birds. Phoebes, catbirds, flickers, chipping sparrows, robins, and common yellowthroats also seem to be nesting nearby.

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I hope you’ll join me in thanking some trees for turning carbon dioxide into oxygen this week. I’m pretty sure plants listen.

Homestead Report 22: May 4, 2017

I’m relieved to report that I survived my first annual town meeting as a selectman with only a few sleepless nights and some nail biting. Now that my stress levels have returned to normal, I can again appreciate the spring flowers. We’re eating enormous salads out of the hoop house, and lots of asparagus.

Our spring ephemeral bed is a huge success, with spring beauties and cut-leaf toothwort spreading around the patch by seed.  The wild ginger is spreading aggressively, probably vegetatively.

There are healthy flowering clumps of dutchman’s britches, bloodroot, twinleaf, hepatica, and rue anemone.

The may apples and trout lilies are not as well established, but everything is still alive. No flowers this year.

In the woods, zillions of little sedges (Carex) that we haven’t yet keyed out, smooth white violet (Viola pallens), and my favorite, wild oats (or sessile bellwort, Uvularia sessilifolia), are blooming.

Fruit trees are also blooming (just in time for tonight’s predicted frost…) There are a good number of blooms on the sweet cherries, wild pin cherries, and peach trees. The plums seem to be about done.

A lot of people like to hate on tent caterpillars, but they are a native species, they specialize on cherries (and there are plenty to go around), and they are the preferred food source for both yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos. Plus, in later instars the caterpillars are actually gorgeous. They’ve just emerged and started to make their first communal “tents” in the last week.

Now, if you want to hate on an invertebrate, I’ll gladly join you when we’re talking about ticks. This year they seem especially abundant. We’ve been finding them chilling on the top of grasses, reaching for anything warm that moves. We’re fortunate that we’re mostly finding the larger dog ticks (also called wood ticks, Dermacentor variabilis), which are easy to feel walking on you and don’t carry Lyme disease (among other diseases) which is prevalent in deer ticks (also called black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis).  I’ve been “collecting” them by setting out a 5-gallon bucket next to my hoop house; they climb up to the rim to wait for me, so each day I go out and feed the lot of them to the chickens.

 

Sorry to get you thinking about ticks. They always make my skin crawl…

I hope you can pause to appreciate the way water droplets collect along the margins of strawberry leaves. And then, consider the fact that in about a month and a half we’ll be eating delicious strawberries!

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