Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our newest farm resident

This is our new kitten. She doesn't have a name yet. (That's Penny behind her.)

It is quite strange, the way some things coincide. Tom only got 3 eggs yesterday from the coop, and when he went to put the chickens to bed, only four were there. I searched the grounds and found what was left of Margie this morning. Something attacked them in the wooded section of our property. All the chickens are now huddling on the back porch, too scared to move.

I realize that if our chickens are free-range, we are bound to encounter a loss somewhere down the line; the odds in life are not stacked in the chickens' favor. But I am so sad nonetheless. I really liked Margie; she was the friendliest of the bunch. Ah well. At least our daughter has a new pet to distract her.

Monday, October 30, 2006

How could I have forgotten this one?

This also came in the haul Saturday. I forgot to photo it yesterday because I was reading it.

Isn't this the way YOU turn your compost heaps? Flower in your hair, Madras shorts, and tiny shoes?

I have the updated copy of this book. It lacks the photos and zany testimonials of Mrs. Henry So-and-So and Mrs. Eugene Such-and-Such. Most of the pics show women who look like Ma Barker and men who look like, well, your grandfather, doing all they can to make compost. Nowhere is there the Nancy Drew type found on the cover. Quite fascinating. LOVE it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I have had the good fortune of finding a husband who loves books as much as I do. You see that "what kind of flower are you" thingy I put on this site? One of the questions is "How many books are in your house," then it gives in my eyes an absurd option like 0-5, 6-10, etc. up to 100. A hundred? Per room, I hope they meant, and checked it, because geez, we even have books in our dining room.

And to add to our sagging floor joists, Tom went to the local library's book sale yesterday, armed with two large cloth Ikea bags. He came back with the little stash in the photo below for me. And he got a lot of kids' books for the kid, with names like "My Turtle Died Today" and "Jeepers There's a Jet", all in the same obvious vintage as my gardening selection, i.e., 1950s.

Here, of course, is my favorite. Now my question is, when is it that I can become an Old Wife? I mean, I am not young, but I have only been married 4 years. Do I have long to wait?

Friday, October 27, 2006


Two years ago today the moving van showed up at our Minneapolis house and packed up all our stuff. Amazingly, they were on the road at noon. We moved into the Michigan house 4 days later...we had some work done on it in the interim.

Work, work, work. I think I need to wrangle another half day off of work so I can plant some of the hundreds of bulbs Tom bought last month. To save some precious weekend time, I took my lunch hour outside in the garden yesterday, firing up the chipper...I got through about 8 bags of leaves before it got jammed. But I spread the new chipped stuff over two more beds; just have another 11 to go.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Little deaths part 2

(No photo today; you'll have to use your imaginations...)

Well, last Friday I gathered up the eggs in the incubator in the school's lobby. The kids had a day off, and it was Day 28 of the usual 21 days it takes to hatch, so...it was time. Not wanting to just leave them in a bag at the school over the weekend, I took them with me. On the way out the door, I was stopped by the Upper El teacher (upper elementary = 9-12 year olds) who asked for a few of the eggs for a science experiment with them. I gladly gave her 4 eggs.

I went to work at the office, and then took the eggs home, and took the bag out to the compost heaps. I dropped them on to the top of the heap knowing I would bury them the next day on my day off. And sure enough, the next day I was out there with my shovel, and I broke up the eggs. Lo and behold, 4 of the 14 had...well, let's just say they WERE fertile, after all.

And this was borne out (bad pun I know) by the kids' experiments. I think their "work" involved lights and floating in water and I am sure something else very Montessori and hands-on. We are thinking that there must have been inconsistencies in the heating mechanism of the incubator, and that the eggs got chilled by about Day 10.

And the mice? There's a tally on the chalkboard in the kitchen: it stands at a dozen.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

LIttle bites

Popcorn drying on the cob (or at least that is the intent) and blowing over the garden chair

All this rain, and then the snow: will the garden ever dry out? I usually let some beans and the popcorn dry on the vine or in their husks...yes, I guess I could leave them there all winter and hope the cold winds dessicate them enough for safe storage...but...

I am hoping to clean up the rest of the gardens this weekend. This means picking and drying elsewhere all the cranberry and speckled beans, as well as the three different types of cowpeas. At this point, I have about 16 bags of leaves to shred. I have spread around the 20 other bags on only 5 beds, so, as you can see, I still have a lot to do to cover the other 13 raised vegetable beds. The other gardens? I am hoping Tom can mow one last time, sucking up and mulching all those leaves with it; I will spread these around to all the flower/herb beds.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More snow

Fig in a pot and cardoon chilly in the ground

Yeah I guess it is time to pack it in. I mean, don't get me wrong, I LOVE snow; I simply don't like it in October. Or November, March, April or May.

Tom and I accomplished a divorce-inducing task this morning: we moved the figs indoors for the winter. This is on par with moving the air conditioners twice a year. (The only time Tom and I become short-tempered with each other is when we are lifting heavy things together, which is why I usually try to do things myself. But that downstairs air conditioner weighs 95 lbs, and, burly as I think I am, it's not something I can swing solo.)

My grand experiment this year, plant-wise, was a ton of different fruit trees/bushes. The farm already had some gnarly apple trees and a magnificent Canadian plum, as well as one lone highbush blueberry and a ton of wild blackberry, sour cherry, and autumn olive berries. And the farm's name is Old Vines, for its 80-year-old grape vines. But I of course wanted "more," and I wanted "weird." Here's the tally:

2 Chicago fig
4 Arctic kiwi
3 red currants
3 green gooseberry
3 lingonberry
2 pawpaw
8 assorted blueberry, mostly high bush

Only the figs are mobile. They are frost-hardy, though they don't particularly appreciate it. They are in the basement stairway now covered with burlap.

And we're not getting divorced.

Monday, October 23, 2006

More fall blooms

Marigolds in the veg garden

If it weren't for some annuals and a few dahlias, the perennial gardens would be bloomless right now. And considering the snow which batted our heads when we loaded up the car this morning, I am wondering how long their tenure will be. The veg garden has a few blooms yet, and it is here one can still hear the buzz of bees, trying hard to wrest a bit of nourishment from a drowsy landscape. Ah me. If it weren't for the wonderful quality of light in October and November, that slanted light highlighting browns of all shades, I would really be a sad gardener.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall surprise

Yesterday when I made cauliflower soup, I made a trip to the big herb garden to snip some tarragon. I have three herb gardens now: the oldest (the existing) garden, where most plants landed when I first moved in, the major herb garden out by the veg garden, and the newest one, a small hillock near the kitchen door. The major garden has suffered the same inattentive fate as the perennial gardens this year. It is a weedy mess. Though I do confess most of the weeds are herbs themselves, mostly dill and arugula, so weeding it is actually a pleasantly fragrant chore.

So in the major herb garden, which I now mostly avoid because I am disappointed in myself for not paying ample attention to it, I discovered a surprise. The pineapple sage is blooming.

Isn't it pretty? (Excuse the poor quality of the photos. It is raining (imagine), and the wind was whipping things around.) I thought it was lobelia (cardinal flower), which is nearby, but it wasn't. I got it at this nursery my mom frequents in Indiana. This nursery charges $20 for a flat of 4" pots. Criminal, in other words: you can get 75 well-established plants (perennials, annuals, herbs) for $100. So I bought pineapple sage on a gluttonous splurge this spring, not really intending to use it, but thinking "oh, isn't that interesting."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fungi Saturday

Imagine this: it is raining again.

That doesn't stop the Junior Mycologist from saying "Let's go see the mushrooms!" So, covered with raingear and tall boots, we go out and see what we can see. She loves the routine of poking the puffballs with a long stick. She delights in finding fairy rings of mushrooms around the trees. And she squeals when she sees a toadstool.

You'd think all this dampness would mean it was a banner year for fungi. No such luck; it's an "eh" year for them, or at least for those that matter to the landowning taxpayers: my harvest of porcini this year has been 4. Yep. Four lonely edible mushrooms of the dozens of varieties we have. I blame the snow, and secondly, the chickens (who're an easy scapegoat for a bad harvest).

We also saw scores of robins. Sniff. They're on their way south.

The only way I could tempt the child out of the rain was by offering her cocoa.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Little deaths

Today, I cleaned out the eggs at school. There's no school today due to teacher conferences, so it was a good day for it, i.e., I didn't have much explaining to do.

Trapper Tom has been on a rampage. The mouse body count has been 9 in 3 days. Seems that when you get yardbirds, you also get yard vermin. Plus, it is fall, and those little creatures are looking for a warm well-stocked place to shack up.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wet work is still work

Borage, "Not dead yet, thank you," loves the cooler weather

Have you ever been on a bog? The one thing you would have noticed other than shaky ground would be the noise. Bogs are not quiet places; they are filled with small sounds of wetness. A bog is definitely what the veg garden seemed yesterday. Its slurpy sussurations were positively eerie. The ground, or maybe the worms, seemed to be trying to make room for all that water. It popped and plipped and sipped. Pulling out used plants, much less walking down the sodden paths, was an exercise in making sucking sounds.

It positively poured last night. Yesterday, however, was a nice day for yardwork; lots of brightness from the overcast sky, and warm temperatures (comparatively speaking to what we'd been experiencing of late, anyway) in the 60s. It is a definite no-no, working the clay soil when it is as wet as it is; I tried to keep soil movement to a minimum. Considering I was cleaning out the beds 2 weeks earlier than normal, there was still a lot of productive greenery around me, moreso than I had originally thought. SO, of the 18 beds, only 5 have been "put to bed" for the winter, and then not really as a couple of them still have stuff in them.

At least I cleaned out the tomatoes. Every year at this time I ask myself, do I really need small tomatoes like the Riesentraube and the (Pox On Your House) Purple Russian, because they truly are entirely too prolific for my own good. And then I remember that it is the small ones that ripen first, way before I get a hint of pink on the Brandywines and other, larger fruit. So I sigh and tear out the blackened plants, and swear as I pick up each individual fallen tomato, trying hard not to squish them in fear of finding a (tomato seedling) bomb in its place next spring.

I planted the garlic, too. I received a sampler pack from Filaree Farms of two softneck and two hardneck varieties. I also planted two bulbs (softneck) that I picked up at the farmer's market...figuring if they grew for that lady, they'll grow for me. When I cleared the garlic bed, I pulled a few green garlic bulbs up too and they delighted me on the pizza I made last night. I found some errant shallots, too, which are destined for one of my all-time favorite garden dish: squash ravioli with sage, shallots and brown butter. A bit labor intensive, but delicious. I noticed the radicchio is blushing nicely in the cooler weather; it reminds me that radicchio and fingerlings with gorgonzola is also in my future. Maybe tomorrow night...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dirty work

Fall lettuce

I have the day off today, and am spending it in the garden. In the mud, rather...this was the only day rain wasn't scheduled. September is normally the wettest month, but just this month alone we have had over 4" of rain. 'Tis a dirty job....

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Don't count your chickens...

...before they're hatched. Especially if they don't hatch.

I am on the trail now for either chicks or young chickens. Seems our eggs didn't hatch at school. I am so very sad.

(The photo, incidentally, is a baby Maude with our own baby this last April).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Playing catch-up

I wish I knew what lies ahead of us, weather-wise, on the farm. The quick scene shift from summer to winter (apparently) has left me a bit breathless. I guess I wish I had been let down a bit more gently...or at least with more time on my hands and/or less work to do.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

School farm

I wondered about sheep care when I took on the school's farm as a project. I mean, my sole experience with sheep was my friend Catharine's hobby farm over the state line from the Twin Cities: Cricket, Ada and Lulu were fairly skittish, and didn't take to much headscratching and pats, at least compared to Billy, Violet and Annabel, her goats. They pooped, they made noise and looked vaguely pastoral.

These two? Very friendly. Very much in the vein of most domesticated animals I know. They see you, call out to you, kind of saying "you have food for me? Food? Food? Food for me?....No? Well I am off then." The duties are pretty light: a flake of hay and water in the morning, then the afterschool kids give them another flake in the afternoon. The shearing and hoofcare are taken on by their summer pasture people (the head of an Ag department at a local college).

I got 18 eggs from our raw-milk lady, hoping that at least 6 were fertile and female. They are in an incubator (with egg turner) in the lobby of the school. Friday, I took them out of the egg turner so they are now sitting in the incubator, their shells marked with an X on one side and an O on the other. They take 21 days to hatch...but, like human pregnancy, I am not sure if that is 21 days since they were laid or 22. Either way, they're due to break shell this weekend. I hope at least somebody hatches; the kids have excitedly watched on their progress, and I will of course be to blame if they don't.

We intend to keep 6 laying hens for the kids to care for over the school year. I kind of disagreed with the timetable, as it gets mighty cold here and the chicks won't be fully feathered (winterized) for 2-3 months. A chick's calendar is not the academic one, though. We'll see. All in the name of education. It won't be a bad life, really, for either the chicks or the sheep.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Here they are, Midnight and Snowy. Guess who is whom. Snowy is the mamma.

No chicks hatching yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Fallout from the snowfall

Stalwart roses, snow-like substance, and one poor sad Penny dog who's freaked out by the sleet...all photos by Tom yesterday afternoon

So for the last two nights and tonight, the low temperature has been about 30*F. Bye-bye nightshade family. All the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers have been harvested, and I made my last (sniff) batch of ratatouille last night with frostbitten basil. I will continue to pull usable things from the garden until snow truly covers the ground, but as I picked everything yesterday, I mourned (in advance) the end of the routine. With the late late frost this spring and this early early frost this fall, I feel rather ripped off.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

This is ridiculous

This was one hour ago today. The earliest snowfall in 25+ years.


Chilly chickies catching a little light

(Is it just me or is Blogger really boggy today?)

Well, the heat is on, the salt trucks were out, and there was snow in the medians as we made our way this morning. Sigh, big sigh, I am so underprepared. Even the wooly sheep were hiding out in their shed today.

The quick drop in temperatures was preceded, as ever, by blustery winds whipping off the lake. Down come the leaves that are still quite colorful: our daughter said they "shivered and shook." Then sleet, then this fake-looking stuff that wants to be snow, but somehow isn't...reminds me of the chickens' first attempts at eggmaking. There is intent there. Just haven't gotten it right yet. Need more practice.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Panic has set in

Imagine this: It is raining again!! Joy!

It is expected to rain all day and overnight. There is a CHANCE of snow flurries. So, in with the tomatoes, out with the sauce.

I was able to get 8 bags of leaves today, though, when I made my sheep run. Oh, and the eggs are hatching on Saturday, so I need to make a post about my other farm....

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The hoarding has begun

This a.m.'s haul

Let me be quite clear: One can never have enough compost and mulch. Yes, one can have a temporary surplus, but after 6 months, one will need more. This is a little factoid that was a surprise to me, moving from the city to the country. I mean, we've got almost 5 acres: couldn't it be self-sustaining in terms of organic materials? The answer is no, nay, never.

So when I drop my daughter off at school and after my sheep duties (more on that later), I start my run for bagged leaves in the suburban neighborhood nearby. This last weekend was the first one in which they fell. I have rules, of course: The bags must be clear. There must be no cars in the driveway, or the neighboring ones...and hopefully, the curtains are drawn (this is a neighborhood of tiny tidy ranch houses all located 30' from the curb). The stash must be on the same side of the street I am on. And so on. By Thursday, I will have nabbed about 12-15 bags, I hope; these are destined for the chipper, then the compost heaps. Next week's haul will go on the beds themselves.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A muted palette

(What? Another picture of that dumb garage?)

Yes indeed the garage is smack in the middle of our vista. It is serving as a bright point of contrast, though, with all the dull leaves. With few exceptions, this is not a good year for fall leaf color.

Such the pity, too. What you are looking at is the Back 40, which initially was the Back 29 before the farm was subdivided out to various relatives in the 1960s. Fortunately for us, these neighbors like things wild, and have let the back pasture go to the trees. So, there are birch, aspen, sassafras, cottonwood, oak, ash, maple, and tons of scrub trees like the autumn olive berry all growing back there. In other words, there is tons of autumn color potential, but just not this year.

Thus the end of my seasonal denial. Now I will be in the "it's still fall" mode until, what, mid-December or so.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Work ahead

Yesterday's haul

Despite my best efforts at being a determined ant, the end of the planting season approaches and I wonder what I was doing on all those grasshopper days. So much to do! Then I (re)remember that I go through this flurry of activity in the spring, too. Such is the cycle of cramming things in. It happens when you go on vacation from work, too: you just fill those days up pre- and post-vacation. Not that I am saying winter is a vacation from gardening, though I suppose it is a vacation from all the toil. I certainly do enough work around the yards after the frost hits. Once the snow blankets the ground, though, I am back to paper gardening...between the covers of books, seed catalogs, and notebooks. Less satisfying, but I sure get more accomplished.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Time to divide the perennials

What a mess

Today the kid and I are going down to my mom's house to mess with her gardens. Two Julys ago, I brought my tiller and tools down and put in a 50'x18' bed in her back yard. I put in about 50 different types of perennials, and a few bushes. It was the hottest week of that summer.

My mom lives in the dunes of Lake Michigan. So, her yard is sand sand sand. I handled this by driving to the nearby riding stables and loading up on poop, and also by mulching the heck out of things with leaf mold. Things are doing very well in the garden. This summer, she called me nearly daily to tell me what new thing was blooming. It was very exciting to her as a newly converted perennial gardener.

Time has come, though, to move some of the beds' contents around. My price, of course, is a few bucketfuls of new divisions. Considering my veg garden is still boggy, maybe I can now turn my attention to the neglected flower beds, and do some dividing of my own. But I am so v e r y behind right now with my fall plans...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Moony moon

One of the things that happens when you don't see the sky for days on end is you are unaware what moonphase we're in. This shining beauty climbed into our sky yesterday. Tomorrow, the moon will be full, and its name traditionally has been the Harvest, Hunter's, and my favorite, Blood Moon (wiccan).

Clear skies attending that beauty meant it was fairly chilly last night. Not frost yet, though.

This weekend I will pluck the last of the eggplants and peppers. The season is indeed winding down.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Silver lining

There is only one member of the household who does not mind rain.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Berries and stolen apples

As a fee for my playing nursemaid to her while she recovered from her broken nose, I sent my poor ailing mother out to the Back 40 to pick autumn olive berries yesterday. She LOVES picking berries of all kinds, so it wasn't much of a chore for her. She was doped up with bug spray, sunscreen, and her happy meds, and she came home with 32 cups of berries, more or less.

From that 32 cups I cooked 16, which produced 12 cups of pulp which, when sugar was added, made (12) 12-oz. jars of jam. Tom found a nifty hand-blending food mill for making apple sauce this last weekend; he picked it up at a thrift store. I used that to squeeze the berries.

I also purchased a fruit picker. It helped in my theft of the neighbors' apples, and it will help with all the pears I see in an abandoned lot on my way to M's school. It's basically a wire basket on the end of a 10' long wood pole.

It is so fun, avoiding the grocery store.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Elaeagnus umbellata

Also known as Autumn Olive Berry.

I went to the Back 40 last night to spy on the neighbors' apples (the neighbor, BTW, said she didn't have apple trees. Shows how much she has gotten around her 19 acres in 50 years) to see how ripe they were for stealing, er, picking, and I noticed that these were quite ripe, too.

Thank you Leslie of Dreams and Bones for reminding me that jam can be made of these little berries, too. After our pathetic grape harvest, I think we need some little project to keep us busy.

Oh, and it rained again all day yesterday, and all of last night.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Love your boots because it's

Moist nasturtium climbing the tomato poles

Wet. Wet, wet, wet. And dark, and stormy. So dark, I needed to turn on the brights when driving down our country road this morning, and this was about an hour after sunrise.

I wonder when I will ever be able to get back in that garden to finish those beds.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


The start of something new: pak choy babies

I have always been one to overestimate my strength. I don't know what I was thinking, but all that rain means the garden paths are boggy. And I had taken on the task of putting in the new perimeter beds: a big U-shaped bed that's 45'x50'x45' at the outside perimeter, and is 3' wide. It needed more dirt to be a RAISED bed, of course; so, shovelful after wheelbarrowload after wheelbarrowload, I think I schlepped 30 loads of just dirt. And another 15 of compost. Wet compost, wet clay dirt. And I wondered why I hit a wall at 1:30 today, unable to continue.

Today is the second anniversary of the purchase of our farm.