Saturday, May 29, 2010

On deck

Too many seedlings + extra pots lying around + extra potting soil = Deck Garden. This year I'm growing about ten times as many things in pots as I usually do. It's just so easy, and it looks so nice. Right now I've got a lot of transplants hardening off outside as well, just waiting for a cool evening when I don't work to put them in the ground.

In pots I have cabbage, basil, eggplant, zinnias, peppers, daisies, geraniums, thyme, sage, rosemary, spearmint, parsley and peppermint. Plus an Easter Lilly given to me as a gift last month. Will it live if I plant it outside?

For transplants I have tomatoes (that need watering), zucchini, cantaloupe, cosmos, lemonbalm, and more basil and peppers. Plus extra cabbage, eggplant, onions and brussels sprouts that I have no more room for in the garden. My dairy farm friends told me they would take anything extra that I had. Which is great, because I hate having anything go to waste.

Quick question -- do eggplants need support? As you can see, I have part of an old baby gate propped up near my eggplants. They are a miniature variety, good for containers. I assumed that they need climbing support. Am I wrong?

I planted my wax beans last week, plus a few scarlet runner beans that I stole from a friend's garden last fall. I need to do some straw mulching under my potatoes, peas and lettuce, plus lay down black plastic mulch where I'll be planting my tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cantaloupe.

Part of me doesn't want to use the plastic in the garden, while the other part of me wants to see if it does help keep down the weeds while warming the soil. Maybe I'll just use it until mid-summer, when the soil is plenty warm and the plants are large enough to shade the weeds out themselves. Then perhaps put in a straw mulch. Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

To do

I spent the last few days catching up on some garden work. First and foremost on the 'to-do' list was plant my brassicas. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage.

Once they were planted, we watered them with the hose. I am toying with the idea of fixing up the gutters around our house (they are in a terrible state) and installing a rain collection system. A couple of large barrels by the house, a long hose out to the garden, and we'd have a great irrigation set-up. The house is slightly uphill of the garden, so gravity would work in our favor.

After they were watered, I covered them up with a row cover. We're forecast for above-average temps next week, and I don't want them to suffer this early.

Next on the to-do list was put up the supports for the peas. Just south of the peas you can see a few of my now-identified spinach plants.

Then I thinned the lettuce patch and transplanted some of the thinnings. I didn't quite finish the job, as you can see. But there's time yet.

Graham and I snacked on lettuce thinnings while we worked in the garden. We saved some for supper, just enough for one bowl of salad. We also managed to find some time for hunting wild asparagus. Some of the stalks had grown quite high, almost three feet. Doesn't matter, we'll still eat them.

This picture looks askew, but that's because Pepper cat chose to have her kittens up against the side of the wall in the garage/granary. Three kittens -- two calico and one orange. Pepper growls at us whenever we walk by.

Another thing we accomplished was installing two grain feeders for the goats in the barn. Hubby had to do a bit of rough carpentry work to put them up, and the goats were not amused by the sawing and hammering. The kids in particular took offense at the loud noise, and hid themselves in their newest best hiding spot. The hay feeder.

So, we managed to scratch a few things off our list. Too bad there's a gazillion things remaining on it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


We've had steady rain for the last two weeks, and everything around here is growing like mad.

The garlic are growing.

The snap peas are growing. I must put in some supports, to help keep them off the ground.

The rutabagas are growing, and due to be thinned soon. Actually, I have volunteer rutabagas growing all over my garden. That's what happens when you let a few plants overwinter and go to seed the next year. I'm thinking of naming my garden Scandinavia, because there are Swedes everywhere!

The celeriac roots that I overwintered in my fridge, then planted out this spring, are doing well. I plan on harvesting some of the stems, and then letting them go to seed. I know five roots isn't great for genetic viability, but it's what I've got to work with.

And the lettuce is growing. I'm so pleased! This is the first time I've grown lettuce. I was afraid it wouldn't do well in my clay soils, but they seem to be quite happy. I've got three different varieties pictured here (again, gotta do some thinning soon). I think the one on the left is forellenschuss, the one on the right is crisp mint, and I forget the one in the middle. A red splotchy kind.

Okay, I need a bit of help with this picture, and the next. I had planted spinach and swiss chard quite early in the season, but I never saw anything growing, so I figured I jumped the gun and the seeds had frozen/rotted in the ground. But now I see several of these bad boys sprouting up through the dirt. Is this what a spinach seedling looks like?

And is this what swiss chard seedlings look like? I've never grown either of them.

Veges aren't the only things growing around here. Here is our little doeling goat, now six weeks old. She is such a sweetie.

And here she is again with her twin brother.

And here's our other little buckling. Can you believe that I haven't named them yet? Since I hope to sell them all, it just doesn't seem that urgent. So, anybody interested in buying a goat? They are lots of fun, and eat ANYTHING. Vegetative, that is. No tin cans. They're great for weed control, and would make an excellent companion for a cow in a pasture. The cow eats the grass, and the goat eats the weeds. Goats actually prefer weeds to grass. Except stinging nettle, that is. They won't eat nettle. I've heard they can be trained to eat it, but I haven't bothered.

Today was so lovely, after work I spent an hour or so weeding in the garden. The boys helped a bit. Owen attacked thistles with the hoe (and when I saw attacked, I mean it--"Prepare to die, thistle plant!" and "Take this, evil thistle!"), Graham pulled weed sprouts from the garlic bed, and Benjamin used a hand rake in an area that hadn't yet been planted. He's still too young to tell the difference between weeds and veges. But he'll learn. Oh yes indeedy, he'll learn!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The yellow hat

A few days ago the boys and I decided to take a short walk out to the eastern slough. The banks of the slough are very high, filled by snow melt and spring rain. Along the way Graham told me that when Aunt Kathy had last visited us, they had taken a walk down to the slough. Aunt Kathy wouldn’t let them get too close because there might be ‘quicksand.’ I agreed, deciding that a little deception in the name of safety was a good idea. The muddy plowed dirt around the water’s edge would quickly trap a child’s small foot.

Graham was wearing a thin plastic helmet, a souvenir he had received at a recent school field trip to the local fire station. He had been wearing the hat fairly nonstop for the last two days. Graham with his yellow hat skipped his way toward the banks of the slough, diligently slowing down as he approached the edge. When he got about ten feet away, he stopped. And just as he stopped, a gust of wind pulled the cap off his head and sent it tumbling toward the slough, over its banks, rolling and skipping across the water, finally coming to a rest about twenty feet out.

I watched the hat roll and skip, and said ‘bye bye hat’ hoping to make light of the event. I had a split second to wonder how Graham would react. With Graham, it’s not always easy to tell—sometimes he can be nonchalant about serious things, but at other times he can be very sensitive about small stuff. I hoped for the former.

It was the latter.

As soon as the hat whipped off Graham’s head his arms reached up to catch it. He watched it roll away and land in the slough. He started to yell, ‘my hat!’ and then stood in shock. Realization hit him hard and fast. His hat was gone, and he couldn’t get it back. Or could he?

He started to walk toward the mud. I told him to stop. He stopped, but started to yell louder. And cry. I assessed the water, seeing how deep it was, seeing if I could walk out there myself to retrieve the hat. Possibly, I decided, but not without my mud boots. I asked Owen to run back to the house to get them. Owen sped off.

‘I’m going to get it.’ Graham said with frantic determination and again stepped toward the mud.

‘No.’ I said firmly. ‘Remember the quicksand?’ He immediately stopped. By this time Benjamin had caught on and was starting to cry too. ‘No!’ He yelled at Graham. ‘Don’t go in!’

‘I should never have worn my hat. My favorite hat!’ Graham wailed, falling to his knees on the dirt. His wails became desperate screams. I found myself starting to laugh silently. Oh, the woes that a six-year-old must live through. ‘It’ll be okay, Graham.’ I said, trying to console him.

As I waited for Owen to bring the boots, and listened to my children mourn a small plastic hat, my mind sought a source of empathy. And readily found it, in the memory of my old radio. The radio I had as a child, with AM/FM, one tape deck, one speaker and a long antenna. I loved that radio. I listened to music every day after school, taping my favorite songs from the radio onto tape, and then replaying the tapes one after another.

One day my younger sister wanted to use the radio. I refused. My mother made me give it to her. When she returned it to me, the antenna was broken. It was a heartrending moment for me. My favorite radio was broken. And nobody else seemed to care. It still got reception, but now the songs were full of static. What hurt me more than anything was the feeling that somehow I had betrayed my toy. It was mine, and I had allowed it to be broken. I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s what I felt. And there was nothing I could do to fix it. It would never be the way it was.

This was that moment for Graham. Nothing he could do would get his hat back. Owen came with the boots. I looked at them and then at the water, trying to decide if I could wade out there. Benjamin saw what I was considering and began screaming anew. ‘No! Mommy, don’t go out there!’ He put his little body in between me and the water and held me back. ‘No! No! I don’t want you to go out there! I don’t want anybody to go out there!’

Graham stood up and turned to me, choking back his tears. ‘Mom, it’s okay, you don’t have to go get it.’

I realized how much it took for him to say that, in the depths of his pain. ‘Oh Graham, I love you.’ I said. I knew I couldn’t go out there, even if Benjamin had not been blocking me. The hat was twenty feet out, and the water looked to be about two feet deep. Add a foot of mud underneath that and there was no way I was going in.

The hat, which had been resting on the surface of the slough, began to sink. ‘It’s sinking! It’s sinking!’ Graham’s screeched. His wails grew to a fevered pitch. We watched the hat go down and settle on the bottom. We could still see its yellow shape under the water.

I latched on to an idea, a small glimmer of hope. ‘Listen. I have a plan. You see, right now the water is very deep and very high. But later this summer, the water will go down. When it goes down, we might be able to walk out and get the hat.’

Graham considered this between sobs. ‘When will it go down? Tomorrow?’

‘No, it won’t be for a couple of months. Maybe in July or August.’

‘But I want my hat now!’

‘I know you do. But we can’t get it right now. We have to wait a few months, til the water goes down.’

Owen chipped in. ‘Yeah! In the summer, the water dries up, and Mom will be able to walk out and get the hat.’ I gave Owen a grateful smile.

Graham’s crying subsided a bit, but I could tell he wasn’t satisfied. He still wanted his hat back, now. He stared at it in the slough, under the water. ‘What if it sinks forever?’

‘It won’t. It’s not going to sink any more; it’s resting on the bottom. It’ll stay there until we come back in the summer.’

After a minute or two, Graham seemed to resign himself. ‘Okay.’

I herded the kids away from the slough, starting them back toward the house. As we walked back Graham’s laments continued. We reached the house and went inside, and Graham and I settled down on the couch to recover. His face was damp from tears, his eyes red and puffy from crying.

All through that experience, I was torn. Part of me would have given anything to get that hat back for him, to ease his raw pain, to see the pure joy on his face when I placed the hat back in his hands. Another part of me knew that this would be an important lesson for my six-year-old son. There are just some things that can’t be fixed, some hats that can’t be reached, no matter how hard you want them to be.

All of this happened four days ago. I’m happy to say that Graham seems recovered now, and only once or twice has asked about the hat. He wants to make sure that we don’t forget it, that we remember to go back out there in July. I will try my hardest. And if I don’t remember, Graham will. He will remember that yellow hat for a long, long time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mail order birds

Thirty chicks arrived this week from Sand Hill Preservation Center. Add eight more purchased from the local fleet store, and that makes 38 peeping fuzzballs in a kiddie pool on our porch. The unseasonably cold (ok, maybe it is seasonably cold) weather we've had the last few days has forced me to add a second lamp to the brooder, wrap the sides with tar paper and cover the top with two tableclothes to help keep in the warmth.

So far we've had no mortalities, although I did discover that one of the pullets I bought from the fleet store is missing an eye. I should have inspected them more carefully. Then again, maybe it's for the best, as nobody else likely would have wanted her. It's not a big deal, we've got several chickens on our farm with physical challenges. She can hang with the other one-eyed rooster, or the rooster with four broken toes.

It's been raining pretty steadily for a couple of weeks now. I haven't spent a lot of time in my garden, which is need of some hoeing. My snap peas are about 8" high, and my lettuce and rutabagas are just showing above the soil. My carrots, beets, dill and potatoes have yet to make an appearance. The apple and plum trees are in full blossom, which makes me wary about the cold weather. Cold weather means no bees, and no bees means no fruit.

We ate one of our butchered chickens last week. I put him in a crock pot with a bit of water and taco seasoning. We cooked him all day and had chicken tacos for supper. We cooked him for so long the bones had started to dissolve. Mmm, extra calcium!

I am long overdue on shearing the goats, they are looking very scraggly. Whenever I've found some time to spare for shearing, it is either raining or the wind is gusting to 35 mph. My barn is not lighted so I must do the shearing outside, otherwise I can't see the difference between fleece and skin. This means I have to find a day with no rain and no high winds. A spring day with no rain and no wind in western Minnesota is rare indeed.