It’s been a long time coming. This Winter was quite a bit colder and, more recently, wetter than last Winter, so while we’ve wanted to get out in the garden to get things started, our schedule and the weather simply haven’t worked out.
Case in point, I was on Spring Break this past week and for the first 3 days of it, the temperatures were below 40 F and were rainy and gross. Granted, I was on Break and wasn’t particularly motivated to do anything, but oh well…that’s my excuse.
Regardless, Brooke ordered some seeds and tomato plants from Jung Seed, so we needed to get the ground usable prior to their arrival.
For the last few years, we’ve kept the leftover stalks and grass clippings on the gardens for the season. Last year, Brooke burned it all and we opted to do the same thing this year (this time with a permit, so a bit more legal…). It was just windy enough to feed the fire, but just damp enough so that it would take a little time to burn it all away.
After the fires were done, I used the neighbor’s tiller to turn it all over and make it look all pretty like.
I’m still impressed by how dark the dirt is after using it the past few years. We haven’t had to add much compost, though we did add some manure last year (just a sprinkling, really…not much).
The garden plots are going to get rotated again, but I’ll post more about that once we actually plant some stuff. For now, the plan is to put the carrots, radishes and lettuce are going to go where the tomatoes and peppers were last year. We’re planting all that stuff a week or two later than last year, but whatcha gonna do?
I’ve been meaning to post something for a bit, but with the weather we’ve had these past few weeks, we haven’t done all that much! In the past month, we had a few nights in the -10 F range and at least a week where we didn’t go above freezing. Last Tuesday, school was cancelled for Meg because we weren’t expected to get above 10 F, and apparently waiting for a bus when it’s -3 F in the morning isn’t ideal…
Anyway, this past week, temperatures started getting up into the 40 F range for once, getting rid of the snow we had last week… Yesterday, we made it into the 50s (though I was on campus working with a Science Olympiad competition we were running, so I didn’t get to really enjoy the weather all that much), and today, we’re in the mid-60s. Not bad for late-January!
We’ve been keeping an eye on the bees throughout this process, as they don’t survive well when it’s below 0 F for extended periods of time. Generally, as long as you’ve got enough bees in a hive, they can surround the queen and flap their wings enough to keep everyone warm and survive. We had some much colder days this winter than last winter, though, so we weren’t sure how they’d handle it.
Based on the picture above, they did just fine! Brooke got in and put in a solid feeder “cake” sort of thing to get them through the rest of winter (at least, most of the way there) and she pulled off the super to keep them concentrated in the lower portions of the hive. They’re pretty active on a day like today, so hopefully they don’t burn through the rest of their food supply thinking it’s Spring (hint: it isn’t).
In other news, in keeping with this blog’s need to post everything garden-related possible, here are some popcorn ears Brooke finally picked. Because, you know…it’s January.
Like I said, we had some snow last week on Martin Luther King Day when both kids were off school, so it was the perfect time for Calvin to go sledding for the first time. Again, it hasn’t gotten than cold the past few years and, incidentally, we haven’t had enough snow for sledding since we first moved here, so Calvin hasn’t been old enough to enjoy it yet.
The garden is certainly on the decline, but we’re still picking a substantial amount of stuff. When all was said and done, we ended up with over 20 pints of green beans canned this year, along with all the rest of them we ate fresh. There are still some beans on the plants, but most of the pods are empty, so we’ve largely given up on them.
The tomatoes and the soup beans, on the other hand, are ridiculous. The tomatoes have certainly slowed, but Brooke has been keeping up with canning sauce, freezing batches until enough are ready. Brooke has canned 32 pints of tomato sauce so far. This time, she hasn’t canned any whole tomatoes like she’s done before.
We also have 5 quarts of soup beans. As in, a full ice cream bucket full of them. And there are plenty more on the vine. This may be our largest haul of those beans yet!
We’ve had some banana peppers here and there. Our pepper haul this year was lower than before, mostly because the volunteer tomatoes encroached and limited their growth. We haven’t eaten many of them yet, but Brooke’s frozen slices of them for later use.
Here’s that really good pumpkin, completely with a grasshopper to add some scale to the picture. We were hopeful this one would make it, but some bugs drilled a hole in the side. It isn’t rotten yet, but we can’t say we’ve got much hope for its survival. There are a few other little baby pumpkins growing that are still yellow, but they surely won’t make it.
We actually had more luck with watermelons this year. This is the biggest one, yet it’s strangely misshapen. There’s another, rounder one, but this late in the season, we aren’t hopeful much will come of them. Still, it’s the most success we’ve had with watermelons! They just took a lot longer to get moving than we expected.
The popcorn also took awhile to get going. There are fewer stalks this year, but what we’ve gotten so far is promising. Obviously, the weeds are taking over…
The corn ears are pretty skinny still, but I seem to remember them looking like that last year. We aren’t expecting to get a lot of popcorn, but last year’s crop worked out better than we expected, so perhaps we’ll be surprised again!
The raspberries came back with a vengeance! I figured they were done a long time ago, but the last two weeks, we’ve been getting handfuls of them. We haven’t really done anything particularly interesting with them, but Meg and Calvin each had 10-15 last Saturday afternoon while they were playing outside and, frankly, that’s a good enough reason to grow them.
The sweet potatoes are still growing and we haven’t done anything with them yet. We assume there are potatoes down there. I guess we’ll find out eventually, when we get around to digging them up!
The fruit trees are still there, with the peach tree leading the growth chart. The rest of the trees got hit hard by Japanese Beetles and, while they’re still growing alright, they’ve got a long road to full recovery. Their trunks have fattened up substantially, so I hope the root system has followed suit, even though the leaves haven’t. We’ll add some fertilizer and mulch to them in the next few weeks and hope that helps them out over the winter months.
That’s about it! Probably the last post on this for the year, but who knows…maybe those tomatoes will keep going through November…
It’s a little early to be posting another garden update, but we’re reaping some benefits from our copious greenery, so I figured I should put up a few pics. Above, the pumpkins (big leaves) and watermelon (in front) are growing alright, but we haven’t seen any fruit on the vines yet. There are some flowers there, so we’re hopeful. The green beans have gone crazy, so we’ve been picking quite a few of those in recent days (just about every other day).
Thus far, Brooke has canned 16 pints of green beans and we have another 4 pints (we guess) in an ice cream bucket waiting to be fully processed. There are still flowers on the plants, so we expect more to come, however the temperature has been in the 90s all week, so despite my watering of the garden every few days, we figure the beans are going to slow down pretty soon.
We also picked our first few tomatoes last night, and that seems a bit earlier than last year’s harvest. The plants have also gone kinda nuts…
…and that isn’t helped by the soup beans that surround them. We spent some time last night pulling the soup bean vines off the tomatoes and tied up the ‘mater plants to the trellis, but I suspect the beans will continue to encroach. The soup beans are also doing quite well, so we’ll end up with a great harvest of them. The tomatoes are mostly green at this point, except for the ones we picked last night.
Also, last, but not least, we got some peaches before the Japanese Beetles got them! We ended up with 5, total, though one fell off early and the other was split down the middle, so we didn’t eat it. They were very good! A bit soft by the time we picked them, but the flavor was quite nice. Not too bad for 2 years of having trees!
Speaking of which, the beetles have been really bad this year, mostly targeting the peaches. We put up a beetle trap last night and we’re hoping that mitigates the issue a bit, but we’re wary of how helpful it’ll be…
There isn’t much to talk about right now, but I did want to note a few goings-on from the last few weeks with regard to the good ol’ Marshall Homestead…
The green beans, tomatoes, soup beans, pumpkins and watermelons are all moving along pretty well! There are some tiny green tomatoes on the plants and the green beans are flowering, so all’s well on that front. The green pepper plants are still pretty small: two of them are looking good, while the other two are on the short side, and are getting encroached by “volunteer” tomato plants from last year.
Other than that, Brooke laid waste to the remaining lettuce, pea plants and carrots this weekend and ended up with a substantial carrot crop. The lettuce had gone to seed a week or two ago, so it was time to end them, and the carrots had been in for months now, so it was time to pull them up.
After hours of processing (that, thankfully, I had very little to do with), we ended up with ~15 lbs of carrots, 12 lbs of which Brooke chopped up, blanched, then vacuum-sealed and dropped in the freezer. Last year, we also got a lot of carrots, but we left them in the fridge crisper for far too long and then ended up “floppy,” which isn’t exactly great if you like raw carrots.
Still, despite Brooke’s metric ton of time working with them, she’s pretty satisfied with the haul of organic carrots she grew.
Otherwise, a few weeks ago, Brooke checked out her beehives and removed 6 shallow frames-worth of combed honey. There’s more in there, but some frames had brood and others weren’t quite full yet. Our new hive from late-April is also doing well, so Brooke put the super on it in hopes we’ll be able to get some honey from them later this summer, too.
Brooke will scrape off the wax from these and likely make some candles (among other things), and she’ll extract the honey along with her Dad this weekend, as he’s got some frames to process, too.
Generally (as I can’t remember if I ever explained this…), honey extraction involves removal of the wax cappings, insertion of the frames into a cylindrical drum, and then spinning them around to use centrifugal force, pulling the honey out and allowing it to drop down to the bottom of the drum, thus letting you fill up jars of honey. It’s a messy and time-intensive process, so while you could get honey directly from these frames, it’s a lot easier to process a lot of frames all at once, saving you clean-up time.
Therefore, we will figure out how much honey we got this weekend. 🙂
The last thing I wanted to mention was that Japanese Beetles have arrived in Marshall. The two pictured above were on our neighbor’s tree, but we’ve seen them on our trees, too, as well as on our sunflowers. We’ve got multiple leaves that look like those pictured above. Our understanding is that this crop of beetles were spending their time reproducing and laying eggs, all of which will hatch later this summer and wreak havoc. Hopefully, our growing season will be mostly done by then…
Still, we put in some praying mantids last week in an effort to kill off insect-derived pests while not spraying anything on our flowering green beans, as that would likely affect our bees. We’ll see if it work… We ordered the mantids and put them in a cage (an old bee package) back in late-May and it took almost 3 weeks for them to show up. There were 10s, if not 100, of them in that package before we released them on our green beans, so hopefully they do their jobs.
So I took some pictures awhile back and apparently never posted them here. These pictures are more recent, so I won’t bother showing how it all started when, you know, they were just dirt plots… As stated in an earlier post, we’ve been busy! Still, we got started relatively early this year and the weather was pleasant enough that we could get peas, carrots, lettuce and radishes planted (above). We already picked the radishes and, while many of them turned out pretty good, others were left in the ground a bit too long (as evidenced by their thoroughly tough exterior…).
This is the most lettuce we’ve grown and it has turned out pretty well! We’ve had weather in the 90 F range this past week, so we’re probably getting to the end of the line with lettuce, but the carrots aren’t quite done. It’s about time to pick peas but, at usual, we aren’t expecting to get all that many.
We also switched up the locations of crops from last year, so now the green beans are closer to the house and a bit more shaded. The mounds above with the greenery is watermelons, and the two mounds in the background are supposed to have pumpkins, but they haven’t sprouted all that much yet…not optimistic… The peppers are positioned around the smaller trellis and we already lost a few of them, but the plants that are still there look passable
The tomatoes, on the other hand, are looking pretty solid. Those plants took off pretty well, mostly because we didn’t rely on seed starts as much as last year, so they went in bigger. We planted most of this the weekend before Mother’s Day, so they’ve had time to grow in the last few weeks. Brooke did plant a few that she grew downstairs, but they didn’t take off as well as last year. Hopefully we end up with a solid crop this year!
Lining the edges of this plot, we put in some soup beans. Those are substantially larger than when I took this picture and they’re looking pretty good. I’m hopeful they don’t decide to vine all the way up the tomatoes, ’cause that would be a huge pain…
Brooke expanded the herb garden, as well. The sunflowers all came back as “volunteers” from last year, and our lemon balm plant also returned from last year. Unfortunately, that was about it! Otherwise, Brooke planted some other stuff like sage and, oregano, and some butterfly-attractive flowers.
The blackberries are also taking off quite nicely! I may need to get a shotgun to fight off birds (and people) that may try to take them before they’re big enough… Lastly, the trees all survived the winter and are growing well, especially the peach tree! We even have a few peaches on there, but that’s the extent of the fruit we’ve observed. The trees will keep growing this year and we’ll get some more stuff next year, we guess!
Now that September is nearly over, the garden’s pretty much done for the year. This past week, the highs were still in the low 90s and the sun stayed out, so we ended up turning a few more tomatoes red than I expected to, but overall, we’re in a “down year” for our tomato crop. The corn has dried out pretty effectively, though we haven’t tested the kernels to see if they “pop” as they’re supposed to.
The peppers have mostly died out, though the coyame peppers keep on producing. Brooke’s been spending most of her garden time dehydrating peppers, then dicing them up to make pepper flakes (for some unknown, future purpose…). The margaret peppers never really did much, though we did get some peppers off them. The peppers definitely produced, but I just don’t remember getting all that many off the plants. This is probably because margaret peppers are intended as “red” peppers, so I wasn’t picking them in their “green” state. As such, sometimes they’d shrivel up before we’d get to them.
The coyames, alternatively, turn red and then stay red for awhile, giving us the time to pick them. Of course, they’re hot peppers, so not exactly the kind of thing I’m going to slice up and slap onto the grill. Oh well.
The pumpkin story is yet to be completed. The plants died out pretty rapidly, leaving behind at least 15 little orange pumpkins. Beetles got to them, but I think we’ve still got a few viable ones out there. Brooke tried spreading some Sevin on them, as that was a pesticide that she could carefully avoid contaminating bees with, but we aren’t sure how much it helped. We’ll see, I guess…
The basil took over the herb garden. Lavender, oregano and lemon balm are still doing quite well, but weeds have invaded this area of the garden. The sunflowers aren’t looking great anymore, but I think Brooke is planning on using them for something.
Overall, I think the “herb garden” was pretty successful this year, though processing everything else has detracted from our use of it. Which is to say, there’s a lot of fresh stuff in there, but Brooke needs to spend more time dehydrating oregano and basil for later use, and less time dehydrating peppers. Still, a good problem to have!
I wanted to include another picture of the trees, as they’ve done remarkably well. The pear trees are still lagging behind the others, as they got hit by Japanese beetles, but the trunks have grown quite a bit in recent weeks, so I think they’ll make it through the winter and come through stronger than ever for next year. I can’t remember if we should see fruit yet next summer, but I can at least plan for the trees to survive…
We ended up getting access to some “pork ends” from a co-worker of mine. $20 for 60 lbs of leftover cuts. Some of it was definitely better than others, but Brooke ended up grinding 20 lbs of it by hand (then vacuum sealing it and freezing it), followed by some additional portions she saved for cutting up (i.e. various purposes), and lastly the leftover “fatty” portions for rendering. If I recall, she ended up getting maybe 4 lbs of fat off what she saved.
It brought back some memories for Brooke, who used to work behind a meat counter. I’m not sure she’d like to do this all the time, but for the money, we ended up getting quite a bit of usable pork to use this winter.
That’s probably it with regards to “garden updates” for 2016! The highs this next week are in the 70s, so while we’ll get a few more tomatoes to ripen, it certainly won’t reach the heights of tomato juice production we’ve had in past years. Brooke has a few buckets frozen downstairs, but again, I don’t anticipate she’ll get more than a few quarts. Perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised…
I realized I hadn’t posted an update since late-June, so I figured I ought to add some more pictures. Overall, the garden’s finally starting to yield some produce. It sure looks healthy, for the most part, though we’re still in waiting mode for many parts. The pumpkins took over this section of the garden, and have continue into the rest of the yard. There is a single watermelon plant somewhere in there, but considering how voracious the pumpkins have been, I don’t expect them to make much. We’re having to keep the pumpkins out of the tomatoes, so keeping an eye on their growth has almost become a full-time job…
The corn has tasseled and has some ears on it, finally. Brooke pulled up the carrots weeks ago, so she planted some peas on the other side of the corn in hopes they’ll do something for the Fall. There are some little plants growing slowly, but it’s still too soon to tell if we’ll get anything out of them.
The coyame pepper plants have gone insane. These were some free seed packs from Monsanto that we inherited and, believe you me, those geneticists know what they’re doing. They’re similar in hotness to jalapeños, so Brooke will probably end up drying them and grinding them into chili powder. The margaret peppers we planted aren’t doing quite as well, though we’ve still harvested a few. They’re closer to regular ol’ bell peppers. That sad little wilty plant in the middle of the picture is a margaret pepper plant and we’re trying to keep ‘er going. It’s got some peppers on it still that we’d like to continue with.
The bean plants in the background are also moving alone. The green beans are mostly done at this point. We ended up with around 2 gal of fresh green beans that we ate on as we picked them. We’ve still got cans of beans downstairs from previous summers, so Brooke wasn’t quite as ambitious this time around. The soup beans are coming along nicely, and the edamame (read: soybeans) are producing a metric ton, so we expect to do pretty well on that front.
Otherwise, the tomatoes are still coming along, albeit slowly. They really got hammered by the hail a few months ago and it seems like that hampered their growth on the north side. There’s also something eating them that we haven’t been able to identify. It isn’t squirrels or rabbits, but likely some kind of caterpillar or other insect, as we’ll find random holes through all the good ones. Still, it seems like that’s slowing down and we’re starting to get them now. If they continue, we should end up with a healthy number of roma tomatoes and other “slicer”-varieties.
Lastly, the basil, lemon balm and oregano really took off since the end of June, let alone the sunflowers. The lavender has slowed down quite a bit, and the lettuce is done. The comparable picture from June of this section of the garden sure looks sparse!
That’s good for now. Weeds are slowing down and we’re having to supplement our watering now, which isn’t too surprising. We ended up with 4 in of rain last week when we got back from our vacation, but the ground drank it all up and we had to water again shortly thereafter.
I should also note that Brooke’s been using Sevin dust on various leaves to kill off the Japanese Beetles that are still going after our plants, especially one of our peach trees. We’re finding them on some other leaves too, but Brooke’s trying to keep it away from the flowers so she doesn’t influence the bees. For now, the trees are fine, but we’re having to keep an eye on them.
The garden’s looking pretty good since Brooke and I spent hours last weekend weeding it, so I figured I should post something before it’s hideous again. Here in the forefront, the pumpkins are starting to look pretty good, but the squirrels dug out one of the hills, so one series of watermelon plants is down. Hopefully we get something out of the three plants that are still there, but again, they won’t be ready until September anyway. The tomatoes, on the other hand, are doing remarkably well. We’ve found three or four “volunteer” tomato plants that we’ve plugged in where we lost some to hail and, thus far, they’re doing pretty well. We’ve even got some tomato plants flowering!
The bean plants are looking really good (the main reason I wanted to take pictures, really…), though some of the soybeans are smaller than I’d prefer. The green beans and soup beans, as usual, are going gangbusters, so we’ll end up with a good crop of them. I’ve staked two of the pepper plants, as they were starting to grow more “sideways” than “up-ways”, though two of the plants are still looking pretty small, so I dunno how they’ll ultimately turn out.
The herbs are looking a lot better now, after supplementing with some larger plants a few weeks ago. A few of Brooke’s original seed starts are still with us (cosmos, aster, basil), but I added oregano, lavender and lemon balm. The lettuce is looking awesome and we’ve eaten some of it already. The sunflowers, seen in the background, are also starting to really take off.
Lastly, the trees seem to be doing alright, though their growth has slowed down. We got 2.5 in. of rain a few days ago (finally), so I don’t feel the need to water them this week, but I had to run a hose out there to each tree the last two weeks due to lack of rainfall. I trimmed a few of their low hanging branches the other day too, as I’d rather them grow “up” rather than “out” at this point.
Everything’s still growing! I didn’t bother taking a picture of the popcorn, as there isn’t much to see yet. We’ve got some plants growing, but they look pretty sparse. It remains to be seen whether anything will come of them, but we’re treating them as more of a “test” than anything else.
I’ve got a few things to cover here, so it may get kinda lengthy… The first thing that bears mention is the bees! We don’t have chickens here (yet…), but for the time-being, bees will be our means of extending this homesteading venture beyond growing stuff in the ground. Brooke ordered some bees a few months ago and they arrived in early-May. Since that time, we’ve largely left them alone, aside from giving them copious amounts of sugar water to keep them happy until more flowers are blooming. The hives are in the yucca plants underneath our maple trees near the garden, providing them with a decent amount of protection from the elements (more on that soon…). They don’t get a ton of sun, but I’ve trimmed the maple trees a bit to make sure they get it for at least an hour in the morning and in the evening. We’ll see how they do there, but right now, it seems like they get especially active in the early 10:00 hour and remain that way until the evening. In the picture above, Brooke was opening up the hive to make sure the queen was doing her job and, at least a few weeks ago, it seemed like comb was being laid and brood were present, so thus far, the bees appear to be doing their jobs!
Now, speaking of “protection from the elements…
A pretty big hail storm came through just before Memorial Day weekend. And by “huge,” I mean some pretty big hail. It was over golf ball size at our house, but larger stones fell just north of us. Thankfully, Brooke’s new car was on the other side of the state at the time and mine was in the garage…
The house is mostly undamaged, but we’ve got a few estimates coming in to see if we need to do anything. The garage roof needs to be replaced, but we need to look at just how much work we want to put into it right now.
Again, the bees were fine because of their placement under the trees, but the garden got hit pretty hard. Brooke had just planted green beans, soup beans, and soybeans in the garden plot above, where you see a small ocean forming.
Our tomatoes were mostly spared, but many of the milk jug covers were blown off as the storm came in. The unprotected plants were mostly decimated, but the ones that remained covered were fine. We lost a few plants, but the rest of them have bounced back pretty well by now. The peas got hit too, as they were probably the largest plants at the time. Since then, Brooke has harvested all the peas and pulled up the plants so we can make room for planting popcorn.
We still don’t feel like we’re getting all that many peas. This is the third time we’ve done it and it seems like we’re always getting enough peas for one or two meals. We can make green beans and soup beans like nobody’s business, but peas are always difficult for us. They tasted great last night! We just want more…
The carrots are looking good and probably need to get pulled soon. Again, the peas and radishes were to the left of the carrots, and we’re going to put some popcorn over there today or tomorrow. The weather looks to be getting pretty hot this week (highs in the low 90s), and no rain chance in sight, so we’ll get them planted and I’ll need to water them in the coming days.
We’ve been gone for the past few weekends, and any available time during the week has been taken up by Brooke traveling, or by rain, so we hadn’t planted the rest of the garden yet. Finally, yesterday, Brooke made some mounds next to the tomatoes where the pumpkins are going to go. This is a section of the garden that flooded last year, so we’re hoping the mounds keep the pumpkins out of the water better than the corn seeds were last year.
We’re also trying watermelons for the first time, but considering they were planted in early June, we probably won’t actually get any until September. Not exactly “prime watermelon season,” but hey…we’ll see what happens…
Thankfully, the beans survived the hail and flooding from last week! Since then, the green beans and soup beans all popped up and are looking great. The soybeans are moving a bit more slowly, but I think nearly all of those seeds popped out of the ground, too. We’re adding fewer green bean and soup bean plants than previous years because we’ve still got green beans canned from two summers ago. If the soybeans take off, we’ll probably keep using those in the coming years for edamame. Soybeans are good nitrogen-fixing plants, so we’ll rotate them around the gardens to maintain good soil health.
The herbs I planted in the plot in the background are kinda growing, but not all that well. Many of them got hit hard by the hail and a few of them weren’t looking great when we put them in the ground. We’ll just have to see how they turn out. In the extra patch to the right, Brooke planted some sunflowers yesterday. The bees will like them, too!
Lastly, I wanted to mention the hops we’re growing in Hannibal. Clearly they’re doing as well as they usually do! Mark and Diana got us a nice new vacuum sealer for Christmas this past year, so we’re looking forward to harvesting and saving some of these hops once they’re ready, hopefully earlier than we tend to harvest them.
Unlike previous years, though, it looks like somethings chewing on the leaves. I didn’t see anything obvious on them, but the evidence is pretty clear. I’m sure Mark will keep an eye on them, as he planted some new fruit trees near the hops, so he’ll be out there checking on everything frequently.
I think that’s about it for now! Lengthy post, lots of pictures…you know how it goes…