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 5: Sept 12, 2016

This week Hurricane (then Tropical Storm) Hermine  made its way up the coast. In Northfield, it manifested as two days of misty rain, high humidity, and relatively cool weather. I jumped on the opportunity to divide perennials and fill in the new flower beds by the driveway.  We got almost 3/4 of an inch of rain on Friday, and another half inch (along with serious wind and a little thunder) on Sunday, all of which should help the plants survive the uprooting.


This is the season of being overwhelmed by the garden’s productivity, so I’ve been busy preserving it. I canned another batch of tomato sauce, a big batch of salsa verde (tomatillo base), and a ridiculous quantity of hot pepper jelly. Tomatoes are ripening faster than I can keep up with them, so we’ve been trying to give away a lot, too. We’re getting lots of cucumbers, ground cherries, tomatillos, peppers, squash, and eggplant. We picked another outstanding watermelon, and made our first pumpkin pie of the season. I’ve been collecting dry legume seeds; we’ll plant the peas in the hoop house this winter to eat the greens, and the black beans are just plain food. Charley brought the first bunch of delicious fox grapes home from work on Friday. A few more beach plums were ripe (one bush makes orange ones instead of purple, we learned yesterday), and we’re still getting strawberries. The raspberries are going strong.

Last week (Wed, Aug 31st), I saw a monarch lay her eggs on a milkweed plant, and posted Charley’s photo. Nine days later (Friday, Sept 9th) the eggs hatched into these tiny caterpillars! On the third day, one of them had molted into its second instar.

Eager to get things going in the hoop house, I started building the raised beds. This one bed will have the highest quality compost, since we have only produced a limited supply and need to use some of it in other parts of the garden.

Our soil is dramatically different across our property. This is well demonstrated by the size and vigor of kale planted on the same day in the “upper” and “lower” gardens, but perhaps best seen by comparing these sunflowers. They range from about three inches to eight feet tall, with flowers of less than an inch to over a foot in diameter.

Having a “wild” yard means we get to see wildlife. On Friday a big flock of turkeys wandered through, eating grass seed and insects. I really enjoy their dinosaur-esq appearance, and I’m glad they’re not as damaging to the landscape as chickens (which seem to prefer bare dirt, and scratch the vegetation to death if allowed enough time). In the interest of full disclosure, this photo is from last year.


I’ve been mentioning different asters blooming in each post; this week belongs to the Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve). This particular plant seeded itself in right by the corner of our driveway turn-around. It’s over four feet tall, although someone drove over it in June and many of the stems were broken off. It has re-sprouted, but the flowers on those younger stems aren’t yet open.

Several of the perennials that I grew from seed this spring started blooming. The verbena started almost a month ago, but the hyssop and balloon flower just opened up this morning! Some kind of hypenoptera (a cuckoo bee, I think) was sleeping in the hyssop when I went out to photograph it.

Weekly Homestead Report 4: Sept 5, 2016


IMG_5826My parents, Charley, and I skinned the greenhouse and did a lot of the fiddly little finishing work on Tuesday. Then I picked up a bunch of cardboard by hanging around at the transfer station intercepting people with big boxes on their way to the recycling bins. I’m using it to smother the grass; hopefully in a year or so, both the sod and the cardboard will have turned into good soil, without us having to dig it up (a lot of work that would apparently disturb the good soil microbes). Now we just need to frame the raised beds and fill it up with compost and some seeds for this winter!

IMG_5931After getting to a stopping point with the hoop house, Dad went fishing while Mom and I picked about 8 pounds of Hungarian hot wax peppers and pickled them. We made 11 half pints and 4 pints of sweet hot peppers, and managed not to burn our hands or eyes with the pepper juice (gloves are essential for this operation). Thursday was another tomato day, with 4 jars of stewed whole tomatoes, and 9 more jars of sauce (a few jars thick enough for pizza sauce this time).

Wednesday, August 31, sometime while I was taking my parents to the airport, a grouse struck the fence of our chicken run, killing itself.

This is not the first grouse-smacking-chicken-pen incident at our house, but it is the first that ended with a death. Last April a grouse hen flew into the closed shed door while I was in there getting food for the chickens, which was quite alarming for both of us. She sat, dazed, on the ground for long enough for me to take some pictures. When Charley opened the door a while later, unaware of the event, she spooked and flew into the side of the chicken fence, then veered off into the woods.

IMG_9810Later that summer, we found a grouse-sized dust bath, complete with a feather, under our rhubarb patch. This year, we have routinely flushed a family of at least five grouse from our blackberry patch, and recently found another dust bath sufficiently large for the whole family on the dirt among the roots of an upturned tree.

IMG_5877I suspect this bird was one of those. It is always very sad to find that our human infrastructure has caused the death of an animal, but around here, we try hard not to waste food, especially meat. I don’t usually photograph my dinner plate, but the “chicken” vindaloo with fresh tomatoes and onions was mighty fine.

Wednesday was an interesting day for another reason, too. Just after finding the dead grouse, I spotted an adult monarch butterfly. She fluttered over the garden and laid several of the distinctive ribbed yellowish eggs on a small patch of milkweed. Charley took some closeups of the eggs (it’s his photo below), and we’ve been checking them every day so we can record how long it takes them to hatch, and photograph the young caterpillars.IMG_0214In the yard, lobelia is blooming, and the red maples are just starting to turn reddish-orange, but most of the woods still look green. We found some mating ambush bugs hanging out with a dead cabbage white butterfly in the woods today.  We’ve been chasing the little buggers around the yard with nets, trying to feed them to the chickens before their caterpillars finish decimating the brassicas, so it was nice to find an ally.

We ate our first ripe watermelon of the season and a few beach plums, as well as an abundance of ground cherries, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, squash, beans, etc. We probably ate the last of the corn, though maybe there are a few ears yet to be found.

This weekend we started digging an expansion of our perennial bed by the driveway/ solar panel area. It has been a week of unbridled productivity due to the pleasant weather and my computer not being around (it got some kind of virus and had to take a trip to the neighborhood computer-repair guy).

IMG_5927.JPGI suppose it won’t look like much until next summer, but I’m excited to get it all planted and mulched in the next week or so.