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Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’

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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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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Today saw 104 degrees. Stepping outside, the breeze that normally cools the porch felt instead like the rush of heat from an open oven. Crossing the yard, grass crunches underfoot like leaves in fall. Yield losses mount as we try not to watch the skies. Even the corn looks to be holding its breath, folding itself up against the oppressive heat and high pressure. A quick walk around the field roads left me drenched and exhausted.

the popcorn patch

The milk thistle shows its evolutionary wisdom: to survive, it must die.

milk thistle, fully dried down

 

Although the air was so hot it felt difficult to breathe, the drying clover along the field ditches smelled like honey, and even the browning grasses held their own special beauty.

We celebrated our daughter’s fifth birthday on Tybee Island, Georgia, earlier in the week. We returned home to discover the chicken pen project was complete! Notice the windows on the coop!

chicken fence and coop

The fence is secured along the ground, with trenches dug out and PVC pipe stabilizing the bottom edge so that our next batch of chicks will be just as safe as the larger birds. The compost is contained inside the fence so the birds will have access to it.

meat chickens

These boys are nearly grown; almost all the birds are contained now. Tonight Brad hopes to catch the three remaining rogues and put them in with the others.

I passed the heifers’ pasture at the end of my walk. Some had ventured out from the shade for a drink:

thirsty pregnant heifers

Brad and Max waited for the sun to go down before working in the veggie patch, staking tomatoes until they couldn’t see. Tomorrow we’ll all continue where we left off today, stopping when it gets too hot and waiting for the rain.

 

 

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Now it is summer!

Dinner on the longest day, all from right outside the door except the tomatoes (from a fellow farmer, ours aren’t quite ready yet) and the dressing ingredients:

summer solstice salad

Cherokee red and romaine lettuces, borage and nasturtium blossoms, and a bit of yellow tomato made this hands-down the most colorful salad I have ever eaten. I mixed up a simple honey yogurt dressing to balance the spicy nasturtiums and the slight bitterness of the lettuce. Vibrant!

We are in a hot-and-dry spell here, making hay and waiting for rain.

walking east toward the hay barn

stacking up for winter

Different patches of corn indicate planting dates by size. The popcorn patch went in last:

popcorn patch in front of the house

The sweet corn in the veggie patch is a bit older:

bicolor sweet corn in the veggie patch

The field corn, planted first, stretches skyward from the veggie patch to the Coosawattee River, obstructing the long views afforded by soybeans in the same fields last year. I wondered whether it may be literally as high as an elephant’s eye, but had no elephants on hand to test that hypothesis.

field corn, this much of it over my head, about two feet

hot, dry sky

around five months old

Corn isn’t the only thing growing in these fields– the calves are getting big, and most of the mamas are bred again. We have been waiting anxiously for the veggie patch to dry out before losing more tomato and pepper plants; now we wait for rain and enjoy the longest day.

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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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