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Posts Tagged ‘raised beds’

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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Julia Child rose, very fragrant and a prolific bloomer

May is already upon us, and the fertility of earth swells forth everywhere. Calico blankets of white clover, buttercup and hop clover soften field road edges, their honey-like fragrance enticing local pollinators. Spiky wands of milk thistle wave their pink poufs high above the grasses they punctuate. The heifers have been inseminated and the bulls bellow and whistle, claiming their respective herds. Spreaders trundled back and forth all through April, feeding the soil that feeds the grass that feeds the cows, and we’ve baled the first field of hay from this year’s growth. Nightshades and peppers grow strong in the hoop house, and corn planting has begun, with the planters now resting mid-field, awaiting the next rain.

when there's rain...

This has been a month of tragedies and triumphs. My first order of chicks got lost in the mail, arriving a few days too late and putting a damper on everyone’s expectations. The unceremonious roadside disposal of thirty-five dead chicks reminded me of the indifference of experience. I was raised to not spend much time grieving over animals; I wonder if I am too cold, too detached. It is what is, however, and arguing with reality wastes precious time and energy; so, onward. The hatchery sent me a replacement order the following week and while the survival rate was not stellar we now have two crested girls that we’ll keep for layers and twenty boys. (Apologies for their blurriness, they wouldn’t sit still for anything!)

"heavies" from McMurray Hatchery

In better news, Brad found one more calf in the field, at least two weeks old, born after the mamas and babies had been sorted into separate pastures for breeding. Thus we have one bull from this year’s birthings, a mother to identify and extra attention to pay in a few months when we’ll need to separate him from the others.

The calves nearest the house have a particular disregard for the electric fence, browsing the field roads and the yard many mornings:

just another pretty face

mmm, figs

in the clover (and perhaps the blackberry canes)

the grass is greener over here

My raised beds are built, filled, and planted; seeds sprout in flats, and we’ve begun preparing the field that will be the veggie patch. If all goes well (this is also the season of tractor repair as things break or malfunction periodically) Brad will put the sweet corn in the patch today, while I am once again headed for market this afternoon, with eggs, cornmeal, grits, and polenta. Happy Beltane!

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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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almost all the seeds...

The deadline for hypothetical discussions arrived in the mail. We’ve been evaluating fields, gauging weed pressure, considering our available equipment and how to prepare the land. The tomatoes and peppers will all be started in hoop houses on the family farm, with much warmer soil to hurry them along. Greens will stay in yet-to-be-constructed raised beds by the house for easier maintenance and harvesting. Herbs and flowers also go mostly around the house, although various sunflowers and some of the zinnias for market will likely need to go in the field. Melons, squash, zucchini and all the beans will go straight in the ground. I still haven’t decided where to put the carrots. We’ll start seeds and begin our race against the rain, juggling equipment between farms on dry days and pacing with bated breath through all the wet ones. We should have more than enough to grow all we can eat, including enough to preserve for all our winter eating, plus copious amounts for Brad to take to market. I have ordered my pressure canner and some new books on alternate preservation methods that I’m eagerly awaiting. Here we go…

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