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Archive for the ‘radical homemaking’ Category

My mother is a quilter, as was her mother before her. Some time ago she showed me this book, The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt by Laurie Aaron Hird. The subtitle reads, “Letters from 1920s farm wives and the 111 blocks they inspired.” Hird shares the story of the contest offered in January 1922 by a women’s magazine of the day, The Farmer’s Wife. Apparently times haven’t changed much, as there was a perception in the city of the drudgery of farm life, especially for the women. Thus the magazine endeavored to dispel said perception by offering cash prizes for letters from readers answering the question: would you want your daughter to marry a farmer? The responses (over 7,000!) were overwhelmingly positive, with 94 percent answering yes. With these letters for inspiration Hird designed 111 blocks, 6 x 6 inches, representing various aspects of the life of a farmer’s wife. My mother is also a retired history teacher, so her interest in this project was no surprise to me. However, I am of a preoccupied nature and luckily missed a very obvious point, which I discovered Christmas eve at my parents’ house when we exchanged gifts. I am also a farmer’s wife, and that quilt was made for me.

Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt by Jennie Johnson

Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt by Jennie Johnson

Incidentally, those pillowcases were also made by my mother, gifts from a previous Christmas. Our bed is queen sized, so she added to the border to make it a bit wider; this is the first quilt we’ve had that truly fits the bed when turned the right way. She attached a handwritten tag naming the giver and receiver, the date, and the details of having 111 blocks and over 2500 pieces. The fabrics are all reproduction vintage patterns, such that a 1920s farm wife could have had access to similar fabric. I love the colors, the small blocks, and the symbolism of each one. She also gave me her marked-up copy of the book, knowing I would want to study it to memorize the meaning of each block. Some I find easier to visualize than others, with names like maple leaf and hovering hawks, corn and beans and kitchen firebox. Others are more abstract: friendship, four winds, homeward bound, silver lane. All are so beautiful, and I feel so blessed to sleep under this. Thanks, Mom. Merry Christmas.

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Summer ends. We are grateful now that the tomatoes are spent and that we have corn to harvest. Fourteen truckloads have lumbered out from the first hundred or so acres, filled to bursting with a thousand golden bushels each. The next field picked won’t have nearly as much yield, Brad expects, but it will still be worth picking, and with 150 acres remaining to harvest here we will meet our contracts and continue on. We know we are lucky this year.

filling a truck

The severe weather laid waste to much of my canning plans, but we did manage fourteen quarts of green beans and around seventy quarts of tomatoes, sauce, and salsa.

green beans

Battles with squash bugs largely lost, we hope to make enough butternuts and spaghetti squash to eat, but it is as yet to early to tell. For now Brad focuses on harvesting and the seasonally requisite mechanical work, as one combine loses a wheel, the other overheats… I focus on homeschooling and keeping the hearth tended, enjoying the turning of the year, my youngest turning three, and the shifting from outward to inward as the work load lightens and gardening projects wind down. At the Equinox, may we all find balance, and for those who celebrate, happy new year!

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tomato sauce

The cabinet is filling up, and we have officially moved beyond the simple canned tomato! Brad combined Romas with peppers and basil from our garden and onions and garlic from his brother’s to make this sauce. It’s slow going but we are more than halfway done. I like to have at least fifty jars put up before the season finishes out, plus sauce and salsa. We’ll do another sauce batch this week and hopefully some salsa as well… I’m going to need more jars…

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Halfway between summer solstice and fall equinox, today marks another turn of the wheel of the year with the traditional first harvest festival, Lughnasadh, and we are in full swing canning tomatoes.

pressure canning tomatoes

The pressure canner made its maiden voyage, no one was decapitated, and we now have twenty-something quarts of tomatoes with more to come. Our five-year-old discovered that she loves tomato juice, so we hope to put up a few batches of that as well, and today I aspire to begin cooking sauce.

We did get some crucial rain, our crops continue to survive… we learned this year that when corn tassels during extreme temperatures like we had the first week of July, it won’t pollinate. Our fields are staggered but we’ve seen some of this in the sweet corn we’ve been picking: spotty kernel formation, big gaps on the ears, sometimes nearly nothing at all. We have been more fortunate than many– we’ll still make a crop– but the final measure will be made at the grain elevator in the fall.

The veggie patch may have been saved by its dampness and our delayed planting earlier. Look at the sunflowers!

my happy place

Most still looks good…

veggie patch: eggplant, basil, tomatoes, sweet corn

Melons are just starting to get ripe. Hopefully this means a few weeks of market sales.

melons!

Wishing everyone a happy harvest and more rain as needed!

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I have made my peace with many invasive species. Kudzu, for instance, bears lovely grape-smelling flowers that can be used to make jelly, its roots ground into flour, its vines woven into baskets, and the sculptures it makes of the lowly yellow pines reminded me as a child of Big Bird’s friend, Snuffleupagus. This invader, however, I do not forgive:

Japanese beetles devouring borage

Japanese beetles emerge in droves in June, seemingly out of nothing, showing preference for the prettiest garden dwellers and turning their leaves to lace. Their shiny colorful shells mock me: I have no need to hide! I am not native! You have no natural predators for me here! Bwa-haha! I grumble and curse at the sight of them and go get a small bucket of water to drown them in before I begin watering the raised beds. I put my gloves on so I won’t feel their prickly, grabby legs as I pluck them off the borage and my lime hydrangea. Yes, I know the borage is delicious, and you may not have it, now die, you wretched pests. I suppose gardening would be incomplete without some casualties…

prisoners of war

In better news, my days-long weeding efforts paid off, and now those raised beds have become the easily maintained wonders I had hoped they would be.

various tomatoes and an eggplant

The Cherokee red lettuce did recover and is thriving. It is reported to be heat tolerant and so far is proving itself worthy indeed of this north Georgia climate.

Cherokee red lettuce between gourds and nasturtiums

The nasturtiums are now blooming, bright yellows and oranges and reds beneath their lilypad-like leaves.

“jewel mix” nasturtiums

The borage is thriving despite the beetle invasion:

borage

And….

blueberries!

At last the blueberries are ripening. Hooray for June!

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much more moisture today

As I write this, long after I should be in bed, wind blows tricycles and scooters across our porch and the farm gets hammered with rain again. The gutter that leaks above the front porch dumps continuously in a loud and constant splatter on the concrete porch floor. The chickens huddle against the house and cluck nervously, while the humans inside cluck just as nervously, wondering what we will find in the morning.

This morning, still clear and hot, found me contending with grass, poke, and pigweed in one of the raised beds behind the house:

raised bed this morning, before weeding

The frequent whims of my youngest two, ever urgent and dire, provided all the sunscreen I needed, as they interrupted me regularly for a glass of water, an apple, a lift down from the top of my car (“Then why did you climb up here?”) or a peace treaty. My gloves caked with mud, I pulled out clump after clump of grass, beating it against the side of the bed or against the soil in the bed to leave behind as much of that hard-earned earth as possible before tossing the undesirables aside. The pigweed’s thorns pierced my fingers through my gloves leaving multiple tender spots. Grass smothered all the Cherokee red lettuce; roots twined together had to be teased apart and the lettuce replanted, with many casualties. I shifted my angle to the sun throughout the morning as each side of me in turn let me know the rays were getting too intense. By morning’s end a fine brownish black dusting covered me head to toe and I had only finished one bed.

finished weeding, with nasturtiums in the foreground and gourds and luffas in the back; Cherokee red lettuce in the middle may or may not recover

I learned the trick of using a tomato cage on its side from my Aunt Camille; if you’ve never tried it, it’s quite clever for vining plants such as cucumbers, squash, luffas, gourds, and others. Keeping them off the ground helps them stay dry, avoiding rotten spots and reducing stress from fungi. It may also help with pests, depending on what type and how you manage them; it certainly makes tending the plants easier as well.

Now the storm appears to have passed and I am tired and sore. The dog has stopped trying to break and enter (he is afraid of thunder). Time to call this day done and rest for the next one.

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I went to the Chattanooga Main Street Market in Brad’s stead Wednesday, quite the refreshing change of pace for me. Market was slow, allowing me to get oriented at my own pace and relax a bit into the rare experience of only taking care of myself for a few hours. I talked about the slow food movement to the video camera of some local college kids that stopped by. When asked about my interest in buying local, my first response was, how much time do you have? So many reasons!

That was the last slow day of the week, perhaps of the season. The mamas and babies have been divided into groups and breeding has begun. The heifers require a different bull and so will be artificially inseminated this year (AI’ed, for short). Gingerly sidestepping the mine field of jokes to be found here, my mother-in-law wrote the astonishingly large check for the good genetic material from a very expensive bull which will be delivered next week. The puns are simply unavoidable…

Fine. I’ll give you one bad joke, told by my sister’s husband when they were visiting last year:

Heifer 1 to Heifer 2: “I got artificially inseminated last week.”

Heifer 2: “Really?”

Heifer 1: “Yeah, no bull.”

Ba dum dum.

In the field it’s still too wet to disk the veggie patch, but the intern, Max, is here and has been building raised beds for behind the house all day. (I am overwhelmed with the urgency of staying on task and providing Things To Do.) Brad borrowed a tiller from his brother to turn the grass under in four-by-eight rectangles, then we’ll fill the beds with purchased and hopefully seed-free soil, peat moss (for aeration), and compost. These beds will be home to a smattering of the veggies and herbs we’re growing this summer, with back-door convenience so when dinner rolls around we can step outside to pick things without having to make a half-mile round trip. The first tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds got planted in the hoop house last weekend, already numbering over a thousand, and now that Max is here we’ll be preparing flower and herb beds and starting even more seeds– zinnias, red rubin and Genovese basil, cosmos, lemon balm– in egg cartons here. Baby chicks for meat and eggs have shipped and will likely arrive tomorrow.

tomato seedlings

Max builds the first raised bed

In the meantime my big kids caught some virus this week and are running fevers and feeling pitiful, missing out on beautiful weather today. Echinacea, peppermint tea, and skullcap and wild lettuce tinctures for them today, waiting for tomorrow already…

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