Gardening


As has become the norm over the last 7 weeks, farm life is very busy, and we are loving every moment of it!

The turkeys have reached about 7 pounds each, and although I still have no clue if I have toms, hens, or both, they are all thriving on their free-ranging life.  If my reading research proves true, then they will double their weight in the next 3-4 weeks.  Seeing as how I have a very tiny oven, I believe a turkey harvest will be in the not-to-distant future.  I don’t think I can fit more than about 15-18 pounds of turkey in there.

Doing what turkeys love doing.

I'm big and bad, don't mess with me!

 

The rabbits are doing great.  Our first litter has been ready for harvest for several weeks now, but other projects have prevented it from happening.  They are roughly 6 pounds now, so we do have to do the deed sooner than later.  We are now hoping and planning for this weekend.  S is sending out an invite to the handful of people who are interested in helping or witnessing, and we are planning a big potluck adventure–though I will be serving beef instead of rabbit, as 7 rabbits won’t feed as many folks as we are anticipating.

3 of the 7 we will be harvesting.

Not too long after this harvest, we will do a few more.  The 3 kits born 3 weeks ago are absolutely thriving.  Apparently mom is a pretty big milk producer, as I have never seen such roly-poly bunnies!  With so little competition, they are so plump and round, they can hardly walk!  Do to the hectic pace here lately, we haven’t been able to tame these down as much, but they seem perfectly content to just be cute bunnies.

These are about a pound and a half each--well on their way to the stock pot!

The chickens are doing equally well.  We get 3-4 eggs a day from our layers, and I LOVE not having to go buy eggs anymore!  The hens are absolutely thriving on their new free-range abilities, and keep the goat pen nice and churned up until I can get it cleaned out.  All but 1 (a white leghorn) have quite friendly, docile natures, and the kids love being able to pet and handle them.  The little chicks are ready to be moved outside, but I lack a place to put them at this point.  Thus, they remain in my garage for another week or so.  I am hoping to mix them with the hens soon enough. 

The Light Brahma's are still my favorites, though they are just really feathering out now, hence the rough appearance. Of the 7 we have, I think we have at least 1 rooster, but the combs are pretty similiar still, so we'll see. I would love to breed these for next year!

 

Our chronic bad-hair-day chicken--a Golden Polish. This is M's favorite, and for her sake, I hope it's a hen. Otherwise, it's life expectancy is very short.

 

Since we got them, we thought the majority of our birds were Silver Spangled Hamburgs. As they have grown, though, about half of those have proven to be something else, and I have no idea what. Can you see the difference here? They have been identical from day one, but now, half of them have rose combs like the one on the left (the Hamburgs) and it is very easy to see that, of those, we have about half hens and half cockerels. The others, though, look like the one on the right, and have single combs. I am leaning toward a Silver Penciled Rock or a Pheonix, but really don't know yet.

And there are a few I didn’t take a pic of, one of which is still a mystery, though, based on his/her pheasant-like appearance, I am leaning toward Golden Penciled Hamburg.

Then there’s the goats.  I’m not sure it should be legal to have this much fun with animals!  The kids are just too cute, with the little buckling being ever increasingly independent and rambunctious.  He will actually romp and play with the children, which they love.

He's standing on my leg here, as if to so say "Here I am! Take my pic!"

 The little doeling is still pretty timid, with a personality very similiar to her mom’s.  If you look at the pic of the buck above, you can see he has about 1/2 inch horn buds starting to pop out.  Because S decided he values goat meat, the little buck’s days are numbered (he will be meat).  Therefore, I decided not to put him through the torture of wethering (castrating) or disbudding.  The doeling, however, has a promising future as a milker, so her day of torture arrived yesterday.

Poor baby girl handled it very well, and will hopefully never have to deal with horns now.

I will do another post with details regarding this process and why we chose to do it.  But this is an update on farm life in general, so I will try to stick to topic. 

DayJay still regularly nurses off both does, but interestingly enough, I am now regularly getting around 2 cups of milk out of Lilac anyway.  One person told me her milk supply will not increase, but any other mammal’s supply is based on demand.  It seems to have increased quite a bit in the last few weeks with the frequent nursing.  Right after the kids were born and he started nursing her, she gave me nothing but a few squirts (not even worth filtering, so I fed it to the chickens) for a few days, but it has gradually increased again to over 2 cups at times.  I have also milked Sara a few times, more for training than anything, and she has produced very little, though I have witnessed both kids nursing her regulary.  This weekend, I plan to start seperating the kids at night, so I am curious to see what happens to both does’ milk production. 

Other aspects of farm life are coming along as well….

The rhubarb and horseradish are everywhere! I don't have a clue what to do with it all!

It has been snowing off and on for the last week, so my tomato,  pepper, and strawberry starts are under hot caps. They seem to be doing well so far.

The strawberries are also doing great. We have already managed to sample a few berries, and it looks like more are well on their way!

 I have corn, beans, and squash growing in my living room window seat “greenhouse” still, and hope to get them, as well as potatoes, onions, and kholrabi planted this coming week if the weather actually warms up.

Then there’s the building projects.  We have had to purchase wire and just 2 sheets of plywood for a coop roof, but almost everything else is being finished from wood scraps S brings home from work–mostly shipping pallets he disassembles.

A hay and feed shed by the goat pen. We eventually plan to close in some sides, but this helps for now.
Our almost-finished portable chicken coop. Yes, it is big, but since the chickens won’t be fenced, we hope to only have to move it 1-2 times a month. We are designing it to house about 12-14 hens at night.

The coop is our final “big” planned project before we go back and start finishing unfinished projects, painting and cleaning, and generally pretty-ing the structures and pens up a bit.  It will be nice to have all this work come together and actually look like a functional farm, rather than run-down, pieced-together, red-neck-ville!  Still, though, even with the lack in aesthetics, this whole process has been so rewarding.  To know that we are finally growing some of our own food, milk, meat, and eggs is just thrilling to my heart, and we are so thankful God has chosen to allow us this luxury in life!

We have survived our second week of farm life.  Other than the fact I am experiencing a little blog withdrawal, we are absolutely loving our life.  S confessed to me early this past week that he had felt a bit overwhelmed during the first week, but now, he is in full agreement and loving everything equally with me. 

This week we have learned just how fast turkey poults grow…..YIKES!!  I don’t know who made King Kong an ape, but they should have made him a broad-breasted turkey!  These things are mutants!  Why they are even staying in their box now is beyond me.  We have had 2 escapees so far–one I discovered when I went to milk the goat, and there was a little poult cheeping away under the milk stand.  Since then though, they like to perch on their food and water jars and just sit there and watch the goings on outside the box.  Seeing as how their box is already about 24 inches tall, I have no other options for containers for now, and seeing as how the temps will be in the low 20’s tonight, they obviously can’t go outside yet.  So, I think I am just going to come up with a cover for their brooder box for now.  It won’t be long though before I will be having to attach more boxes to give them more room.  That was something I didn’t consider before! 

Not that you can tell their size here, but I would estimate they stand over 8 inches tall now.

Sadly, we have also learned just how vulnerable the poults are, since we lost our first one earlier this week.  The kids are basically in charge of their care, so poor M was the first to discover the little guy lying in his box.  She came inside and asked me to come take a look.  Based on her demeanor (she is an animal softy!), I think she knew he was dead, as she seemed to be holding back the tears, but she also seemed to hoping against hope that he was just sleeping (even if his eyes were wide open).  Poor girl.  Farm life can be tough on a soft heart, but I suppose it’s better they learn with turkeys and chickens and rabbits, so they are more prepared later for the goat babies and cows of the future. 

The goats are doing great.  I haven’t made much progress in the last week with the skittish Sara.  Once I catch her, I can handle her, and I can catch her pretty quickly (only because she isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed), but I am not looking forward to trying to drag her on a leash across the entire yard to get to the milk stand.  She doesn’t exactly jump at the idea of following me anywhere (she prefers to jump away!)  Only time is gonna tell how she works out.   In terms of milking, I think I have improved drastically.  Not that I have any way to be sure, but I am pretty confident I am doing well milking Lilac out pretty thoroughly.  She is such a good girl to learn on.  I think we found a good deal with her!  She is smart as a whip too, and absolutely adores people.  I think she would love to be a house pet, but I do have to draw the line somewhere!  I have been a bit disappointed that her production has not increased any yet, though.  When I got her, she was milking 5-6 cups a day on once-a-day milking, and now I am getting exactly 5 cups on twice-a-day milking.  It is tempting to go back to once a day if I get the same amount, but I keep hoping maybe the change in environment is keeping her so steady (I have heard they back off on production sometimes).  I am also playing around with her feed a bit to see if I can get a bit more protein into her.  Turns out she doesn’t much care for the hay we’ve been getting lately (good quality horse alfalfa, but a little stemmy I suspect).  So, the big change is the addition of alfalfa pellets twice a day, which the girls are cleaning up happily, and then using the hay as a free-choice supplement essentially.

My big news of the week happened Saturday.  It was gorgeous out, so we decided to spend the day working outside for the first time.  I decided to rake out and clean up the garden area a bit, and low and behold, buried under the scrubby waste, I discovered tons of RHUBARB!!!  At least, I think it’s rhubarb.  Because it’s so young, and the leaves are just uncurling, I debated between that and swiss chard, but based on the pics I found online, I’m pretty sure it’s rhubarb.  I also found what we suspect to be horse radish.  We think.  I haven’t had a chance to really research it, but S insists it smells just like it. 

So, I spent the day transplanting a few of each to a more desirable area for us, and actually creating the beginnings of a veggie garden.  I also transplanted a bunch of lilies I found.  I wasn’t going to garden this year, but after catching on to things so far, S agreed that we might as well go for it.   Being able to recycle rather than spend money helps make it all the more fun!

My makings of a garden. I know very little about gardening, so this is an experiment in itself. Add to it the fact that everyone says gardening in Colorado is akin to gardening in Las Vegas (very difficult), and I may have my work cut out for me!

In addition to the garden, I finally got to create my much-anticipated compost pile.  I used some of the used T-posts we purchased off Craigslist last year and moved out here, and recycled some of the old goat pen fence.  I have some plans for the soil created by the worms in my vermicomposter over the last 8 months or so, but the worms’ days are numbered.  They just proved too high maintenance for us. 

The house is coming along nicely too.  I’ll post more about that later, but we are slowly but surely getting settled.  We only have a couple boxes remaining, and a few –OK, a LOT–of miscellaneous things lying around needing a permanent place to go.  I think we will be starting up school again on Monday though, and starting to try to get into some semblence of a routine again.  We love to have fun with things during the occasional break from work though.

Making fresh squeezed orange juice.

We installed a new tire swing, which the kids have wanted for a long time. They love it.

 One thing that already seems to be coming naturally is our kiddo’s bedtimes.  I have discovered that there is nothing like farm life to wear kids out!  We decided to put all 3 of our boys in a room together for the first time.  A has always been the difficult one to get to sleep if there is another child in the room, so I was concerned as to how that would work out.  As much time as the boys spend playing outside, though, when naps or bedtimes roll around, they are so tired, they don’t put up any fuss!  Furthermore, I usually have to wake them at the designated time, lest they oversleep.  We have also had to bump back the bedtimes to about 30 minutes earlier for the toddlers and for M, as they are all so tired at night.  I LOVE it!!  WORK……(and play)….It does a body good!

Sleepy little boys.

This coming week should prove just as adventurous.  We are expecting our chicks any day.  Life is good, God has truly blessed us, and we look forward to what the future holds!!

I picked up this week’s food shares and thought it blog worthy:

Technically, my weekly share consists of the 2 dozen eggs, the 2 bags full of peaches, pears, nectarines, and apples, the squash, cucumbers, zucchini, spring onions, lettuce, collards, potatoes, lemon cucumbers, kohlrabi, eggplant, carrots, hot peppers, dill, parsley, cabbage, baby spinach, and more lettuce.  In addition, I also received my canning share for the week–2 full boxes, which equals about 45 pounds, of green beans, as well as a 20 lb. box of broccoli to make up for the aphid-infested bunch last week.

S and I were both up until almost 11 last night chopping and slicing what we could for the dehydrator, I froze all the cooking greens, and blanched, chopped, and froze as much broccoli as I could stand.  After working for over an hour, I finally called a fellow-CSA member/friend and offered her the remaining 10 lbs or so of broccoli.  I have officially lost count of the number of gallon-sized bags of broccoli I have processed between last week and this week! 

Now, I have to start canning.  I hope to complete one canning project each day to be done by the weekend.  I have the green beans, which will be mixed with some wax beans from last week’s share, and some cucumbers to turn into pickles.  I also have some cabbage, zucchini, and squash to chop and freeze yet.  Whew, I am finally understanding why harvest season is such a busy time for farmers!!   But it will be so nice to have such delicious and nutritious food put away for this winter!

I am quickly discovering one of the lesser-publicized aspects of self-sufficiency, and I’m not liking it one bit!  I don’t know how to deal with it.  Bugs, worms, creepy crawlies, ickiness, webs, cocoons, microscopic legs, wings, and beady little eyes.  IN. MY. FOOD!  YUCK!!  I am getting the shivers thinking about it. 

OK, so I always kinda thought of myself as a farm girl.  Not much grosses me out.  I am willing to sample a boiled cow-tongue, go out in the middle of the night to tend to critters, and cobwebs don’t bother me (too much).  Recently, though I am realizing I have some very deep issues I must deal with.  And soon.  I knew it was going to be tough to eat a rabbit we had raised or to eat a beef tongue sandwich.  It was different.  But I overcame and I did it, and I was proud of myself.  I admit, I do have major issues with roaches that I will probably never overcome.  Therefore, I intentionally chose to retire in a location where the roaches were generally no larger than my fingernails.  I could handle that.  But this?….

We get the vast majority of our produce through a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.  The produce is entirely organic, so it has never seen pesticides.  I like this idea.  It’s natural, just the way God made it.  However, I am now learning there is a reason for pesticides.  Simply put, IT KILLS PESTS.  I knew this little fact.  I have studied it thoroughly, and have developed all sorts of plans for controlling the pests at our little farm when we get going.  (Whether any of those plans will actually work is yet to be determined).What I didn’t know, though, was just how bad the pest problem could be on organic, pesticide-free, fresh food!   I got the full picture (at least, I REALLY hope it was the full picture!) last night, as I was up to my elbows in a fresh delivery of broccoli stalks.  I had ordered the broccoli (a bit over 20 lbs. of it) to freeze for winter, when the CSA season is over.   Mind you, this broccoli was beautiful and perfect.  Most of it was bright green, with just a hint of reddish-purple in the some of the florets.  It was the type of extra healthy broccoli that you just wanted to dip into some ranch dressing and pop in your mouth!  

I took it out of the box, and decided to give it a good rinse in a sink full of water and chop it up to prepare for freezing.  Well, I quickly realized my water had odd ..um…. things floating in it.  I also noticed that the cute little green leaves that grow on the stalks were falling off  with some ease in the sink.  Then, on closer inspection, I realized it wasn’t “things” and “leaves.”  There were HUNDREDS of little, grey, mite-looking bugs hiding in the florets, falling off in the water, and crawling around my sink.  The leaves were, in fact, little green caterpillars.  I have the chills just remembering my horror!  I quickly changed the water in the sink.  And more fell out of the soaking broccoli stalks.   UUGH! 

So, I did my best to disassociate from my bug-hating brain and the thought that my hands had to enter that water and work with that broccoli.  Over the course of several hours, I rinsed each stalk a minimum of 3 times–once to get the worst of the infestations and caterpillars off, then cut it up and put it into a bucket where I massaged the florets to attempt to get more bugs off, then drained, strained, and rinsed under the faucet to try get more bugs off.  As I went through this process, I discovered that the bugs had a definite preference for the tighter, denser florets, the tightest of which would have countless bugs and some type of related sacs just filling up the little areas between the leaves.  Although this was only visible on extremely close inspection of an otherwise perfect floret, it was bad enough to cause me to toss out far too many florets.  If I wasn’t able to get those bugs out in 3 rinses, one of which included a thorough massage of the florets with my bare hands, than I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating that piece!

So went my evening.  A job that probably should have only taken about an hour (or less), took me about 3 hours due to my nit-picking (no pun intended) thoroughness.  My husband got a good laugh (he will literally eat ANYTHING, and just considered the uninvited guests to be extra protein on the menu), but mean while, I found myself picking caterpillars and bugs to the point that I started finding them crawling up my arms.  YIKES!  About mid-way through the second hour, I realized my brain had started playing tricks on me, as I was starting to unexplainably itch all over, with the vision that bugs were inside my hair and clothing.  I now fully understand how a person could potentially be driven to insanity. 

It almost happened to me last night!

I am well aware that I didn’t come close to eliminating all the bugs, and I am also well aware that the freezing and cooking processes will kill what remained of them.  Furthermore, I have been well-educated in the laws that allow even commercial food industry to have so many bug and rodent parts per package of food.  I know we eat bugs.  It’s just the idea of KNOWINGLY eating bugs that gets to me.  Am I making sense here? While I am proud to say I did freeze about 5 gallon-sized bags of broccoli for later use, I need advice from you more experienced food-preservers!

Is there a better way to eliminate bugs in a situation like this?  Should I have steamed/blanched the stalks before even bothering to rinse and cut them up?  Those are sticky little critters, and they don’t like to come off easily!  Is it something you eventually just learn to accept?  OH, I am so disgusted right now at the thought of the many critters in my freezer bags, I can’t even think about it!  I am going to have nightmares for weeks, I fear!  I would seriously be reconsidering my self-sufficient, food-producing, farming goals, IF I weren’t already so incredibly committed.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

In the mean time, I am going to go scratch my itches, and then go take a shower.  Again.

Since we joined the CSA here for our produce, I have been preserving a LOT of food.  I have also been doing a lot of experimenting with foods, just to see how things turn out.  Several people have asked me how I do it, so I thought I’d post here.  I will forewarn you though, that I am NO expert at this stuff.  I do it this way based on my limited experience and research of food preserving.   My favorite way to preserve things is to dehydrate them.  The foods last a long time once dried, and I am not taking up valuable freezer space to preserve them!  So here is a quick tutorial of some items I have preserved recently:  

Garlic Scapes:  The stem of the garlic plant is just as edible as the bulb.  While it is still young, it is quite curly and tender, and therefore edible.  Once it begins to mature, it straightens out and becomes to tough to eat.  The flavor is similiar to garlic, but a lot more pungent and strong.  I was warned to used much less of it than of standard garlic in my dishes.  This week, I got more than I could use, so I dehydrated most of it.  

Garlic Scape

  After washing the scape, I simply cut off the lower tip, slice it like a green onion, all the way up to the flower bulb.  S tried the flower (I love having a guy so willing to eat anything!), and said it was relatively tasteless, so I disgard that portion, and dry the sliced stems.  

  

Herbs:  I have been getting a lot of herbs lately–parsley, cilantro, dill, and even some basil.  I primarily use herbs dried as a seasoning in my dishes, so drying is my preferred way to process them.  As soon as I get them in, they are nice and fresh.  I give them a good rinse, pick out any yucky pieces, slice off the lower, thicker stems (they don’t dry evenly with the rest of the plant), and disgard them.   

  I take the top, leafy portion of the plant, and lay them as evenly as possible on the dehydrator tray for drying overnight.  

  Once they are dry, I remove them carefully (they will crumble) and place them in a bowl.  Using my hands (I would use a mortar and pestel if I had one–my hands stink after this!), I just squeeze and crush all the plants and leaves.  The smaller stems get crushed with it.  Any larger or still moist stems that remain get picked out and disgarded.  I then put the crushed herbs into a little, labeled and dated baggie, and stick it the freezer.  Freezing apparently kills off any bug larvae that may remain on the leaves.  It has to be frozen for 24 hours to kill the larvae, but I just store the baggies in the freezer (for now) until I need them to refill my spice jars later.  You could just as easily store them in your pantry or cupboard.  

Green onions:  We love onions, but I can’t use them nearly as fast as get them, so I dry most of them.  I rinse the plant, and pick off any gooey pieces from the bulb.  Then I slice off and disgard any brown stems or tips.  Finally, I slice the green onion stems all the way to where they turn white and join the onion bulb.  The stems then get spread on the dehydrator tray for drying.  

  Next, I slice the roots off the bulbs, give the bulbs a final rinse, and put them in a dish in the fridge.  These could be sliced and dried with the stems, but I use these as my fresh onions in dishes and salads.  It’s a far more manageable amount!  

Other veggies, like squash and zucchini can be rinsed, sliced evenly, and spread on the dehydrator tray for future use in soups.  You could also salt them or marinade them, dry, and eat like chips.

Similiarly, bell pepper can be diced, spread on the tray to dry, and used for future soups and stews.  I love having some of these veggie flavors preserved for dishes on those nights when I am out of the fresh veggies.

Fruits are done like veggies.  They are peeled and/or sliced according to what type of fruit it is.  In the following pic, I dried apricots and cherries.  The apricots get rinsed, sliced into dry-able portions, and sorted into a single layer on the tray.  Cherries are simply sliced in half, pit removed, and layed with the peel down on the tray.  Fruits should be dried until MOST moisture is gone, and it takes on a leathery, chewy texture.  Do not over-dry them.  It really becomes a matter of personal preference, just be aware that the more moisture they contain, the faster they will spoil.

There you have it.  Dehydrating 101!  Have fun!

Shortly after we moved to CO, I signed up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture) produce co-op.  Essentially, with the local farm I selected, you select the size produce basket desired for your family, pay in advance for the whole season, then every week for roughly 28 weeks, they supply you with your share of the farm harvest.  I have heard of these, but had never tried one.  However, we decided it would be a great intro to dealing with the crops on our future farm, as you have to eat whatever is in season.  WOW, was I ever in for a shock!

A one-week supply of veggies.

I selected the “Family Share,” which the website stated was sized for a family of 4.  I figured since our kiddos were so young, it should work perfectly.  The first week, as is common in the late spring, my basket included almost 10 pounds of greens!  There was romaine lettuce, red-leaf lettuce, and spinach running out the whazoo!  It also had some herbs and rhubarb.  I quickly froze up the spinach, dehydrated the herbs, and we ate as much of the lettuce as we could.  Despite our efforts, though, I still had so much green stuff left when the following week’s delivery showed up, that I passed some off to the neighbors. 

Last week, I got a similiar bunch of items, with the addition of some radishes, beets, and green onions.  We did a little better, but by this week’s delivery, I still had several pounds of greens left–which were again offered to appreciative neighbors. 

This week (seen in the picture above), I got about 6 pounds of lettuces and spinach, cilantro, parsley, dill, green onions, spring onions, baby radishes, baby beets, rhubarb, kohlrabi, kale, and English peas.  We spent the evening shelling peas, dehydrating the herbs, and researching recipes for the other stuff.  Geepers, I have never even heard of kohlrabi, and had no clue what to do with the kale!

Shelling peas

Preparing herbs for the dehydrator.

Despite the excessive amounts of green leaves in my house, we are learning so much!  I will definitely plant less green stuff on our farm than originally planned, as it is plentiful.  I am also having to learn how to develop my menus for the week around the produce received for that week.  Today for example, we experimented with a lunch of sautee’d curry and garlic kohlrabi, wilted spinach pasta salad, and rhubarb crunch for desert.  It was different, but overall, we enjoyed the new flavors. 

I am greatly looking forward to the coming weeks, as the growing season takes us away from greens and into more colors and varieties of veggies.  In addition, within the next week or two, the fruit season will kick off, and I will be getting a family share of fruit as well.  I can’t wait to experiment with preserves, freezing, canning, saucing, and whatever else I can think up to do with this stuff! 

In case you live around CO, we use Grant Family Farms.  They have a huge selection of packages to meet everyone’s needs.  They also have choices of veggie shares, fruit shares, preserving shares, pastured eggs, and all sorts of pasture-raised meats.  It’s all organic and natural, tastes delicious, and you have a chance to support local farmers.  If you sign on, mention that I recommended them. 

Oh, and when we process all this produce, there is, of course, a bit of waste that remains:

onion roots, pea shells, stems, etc.

Now that I am getting to know my food better, I have a greater appreciation for it.  I hate wasting this stuff by just tossing it in the trash, and on base, we aren’t allowed to compost outside due to the wildlife it would potentially attract.  So I had to develop a plan.  Now, I feed it to the worms!  More on that another day, though!

Most of my garden experiment has petered out in our triple-digit summer heat.  However, the tomatoes have proven to be an interesting lesson in nature and fruiting.  About 8 weeks ago, just as summer was getting hot and we had about given up on getting any tomatoes from the plants, we suddenly had around 8 green tomatoes.  They grew a little bit (to about a grape tomato size), and then several just up and fell off the plant.  We continued waiting around for our remaining little “Big Boy” tomatoes to perhaps turn red and provide us with a snack. 

Did you know that if the weather is too warm or there is just a hint too little water, tomatoes will stop growing and remain green?  I picked one and took it inside to see if it would turn red indoors where it was cooler.  No such luck.  It just began to rot.  We left the others on the plant to see what would happen. 

6 WEEKS went by, and, once again, just as we gave up hope, we noticed them taking on an orange tint, and still looking edible.  Once again, we started getting excited.  The size didn’t change at all in the 6 weeks, so they grew to about an inch-and-a-half diameter, and then literally just stagnated there for all those weeks.  Once the orange started though, each day, they looked a bit more red.  One in particular looked more promising than the others.  The size still didn’t change, but it was otherwise a pretty, reddening, uniformly shaped tomato.   The day before we were planning to pick and taste it, wouldn’t you know something beat us to it!

Our much-anticipated snack

Our much-anticipated snack

After, literally, a whole summer of waiting, our single, most promising tomato was hopelessly attacked.  I am assuming a bird started the hole, but by the time we discovered it, it was filled with ants.  S, determined to not lose his one tomato, picked it, brushed the ants off, and took it in the house.  Later, when he had the chance, he sliced the bad section off, and cut a nice slice for himself. 

His response?  “It tastes like a tomato….though definitely NOT the best tomato I’ve ever eaten!”

I may attempt some leafy greens this fall, but otherwise, I think I am going to give up my gardening attempt while living in such an unforgivable location! 

Of course, I may always change my mind.  I do have a tendency to forget what I say!

First Carrot Harvest

First Carrot Harvest

Our little container garden experiment has been interesting and educational to say the least.   All the plants decided they didn’t care for the location I had them in, as they got too much afternoon (aka HOT!) sun.  So we decided to sacrifice a small row of grass where the pots could be limited to morning sun.  The health of the plants improved significantly.   The strawberries blossomed and fruited well, producing a couple of strawberries every day for about 2 weeks, then died off to producing about 1 strawberry a week ever since.  The tomatoes grew green and lush foliage, healthy plants, pretty yellow blossoms, and then the blossoms fall off.   Apparently, they do not pollinate well in temps over 90, which we have on a daily basis right now.  Therefore, no tomatoes.  My pole beans fruited well for a couple of weeks, but with so few plants, I literally had to simply pick one bean every couple of days.  Same with the yellow summer squash.  The squash are still going, producing about 1-2 a week.  Our largest so far was about 4 inches long.  They seem to get longer as the plant gets older.  The corn has developed 6 ears now–2 on each plant–but I don’t think they will get very big.  I am interested to see if they are even edible.  It is hard to know when to pick the ears.  The broccoli is still growing, though no florets have developed yet.  The lettuce and melons were a miserable failure, not growing even one plant.  The celery also failed, as it died off as soon as we transplanted it outside.  Finally, my carrots are my diamond in the rough.  They have done really well.  I get small sizes due to the pots, but we have been picking one or two several times a week just to snack.  The other night for dinner, I came up short on veggies.  So, for the first time in my life, I walked out to my garden, picked a handful of the larger sized carrots, cleaned, and steamed them up.  It didn’t make much, but it was enough to complete our meal.  That was fun!  And so very rewarding to get my first official “harvest”!  In hopes of continuing that cycle, I have planted another batch of carrots that are already several weeks old, and I plan to plant some more soon.  I think I am just going to fill the empty or dead pots with carrots since they grow so well and so easily.  Plus, we eat a ton of carrots.

We have learned that container gardening can work, but it seems everything grows in miniature.  It is also a great deal more work maintaining than I expected it to be.  I have also learned that trying to grow crops in the middle of the desert is really more work than it is worth–particularly in such a small area and with limited resources.  I also learned that, when a plants growing instructions call for lots of sun and little water, here in the desert, it requires the opposite to even stand a chance. 

We look forward to what the plants do for the rest of the summer.

For some time now, I have wanted to try growing some fruits and veggies for the family.  Because we have a rental home, we are very limited with what we can do.  Then I heard about container gardening.  Apparently, you can grow almost anything in a pot that you would normally grow in the ground, just on a smaller scale.  I figured it could serve several purposes in our case:  First, seeing as how I have never had success at keeping any plant alive, I could learn a bit about gardening prior to planting a larger garden on the homestead.  Secondly, it would be a great homeschool project, and highly educational for the kids to learn where some of their food comes from.  Thirdly, it would just be a fun experiment that would hopefully have the added benefit of producing something edible.  Thus began our container garden experiment. 

Now, mind you, I was dealing with several limitations.  We determined we wouldn’t invest anything beyond basic soil and seed if possible.  I didn’t want to invest several hundred dollars in fancy supplies to learn that I would just forget to water.  Additionally, we will only live in this house for another year before moving again, so I am basically only dealing with one, maybe 2 growing seasons.  The owners left a bunch of pots in the side yard, so I decided to put them to use instead of buying anything fancy.  I was also very limited on available space to put my pots. 

We started our project several months ago with the purchase of an indoor seed starter kit and several types of veggie seeds.  We have a relatively early growing season here if plants are started indoors.  So, for our homeschool activity one day, JR helped me plant the seeds, water, and label everything. 

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We religiously watered, and when the seedling emerged, we put them outside every day for a few hours of direct sunlight.  JR was so excited to see them growing, and would report to me almost every day on how they were doing.   Finally, when the risk of frost was passed and the seedlings were large enough, I thinned them out and put them in pots.

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My biggest limitation was the space available for my pots.  I had no area to actually grow a garden, I couldn’t group my pots anywhere that would risk killing the grass, and the few areas that had no grass also got no sun.   I had a sidewalk, but I had to leave a path open for the kids to walk by.  This left me only one option which was to place the pots in a row down my sidewalk. 

My row of veggetables.

My row of vegetables.

 This is certainly not an ideal set up, as it seems like crops are supposed to be grouped together in clusters, or at least in multiple side-by-side rows to help with fruit fertilization.  That is not an option for us though, so the best I could do was plant multiples of each plant, place them side-by-side, and see what happens.  In order to better utilize my limited number of pots, I also attempted symbiotic planting of different vegetables.  For example, beans and corn love each other, tomatoes and carrots love each other, and squash and corn also do very well together. 

The corn/squash is on the right, then a corn, then a corn/pole bean, then a pole bean.  Notice how the 2 pots that have multiple plants are thriving and the other 2 are not.  I don't know if this is because of the relationship they have, because they simply have a bigger pot, or something else, but I do find it very interesting.

The corn/squash is on the right, then a corn, then a corn/pole bean, then a pole bean. Notice how the 2 pots that have multiple plants are thriving and the other 2 are not. I don't know if this is because of the relationship they have, because they simply have a bigger pot, or something else, but I do find it very interesting.

Tomatoes and carrots are in the 2 center pots, and just tomatoes are in both end pots.  Again, interestingly, the plants in mixed pots are thriving, while the other 2 are just doing OK.  The tomato plants in the end pots are about 1/2 the size of the one in the 2 middle pots.

Tomatoes and carrots are in the 2 center pots, and just tomatoes are in both end pots. Again, interestingly, the plants in mixed pots are thriving, while the other 2 are just doing OK. The tomato plants in the end pots are about 1/2 the size of the one in the 2 middle pots.

 As of now, my celery all died after transplant to the larger pots.  My strawberries did ok and even gave us some deliciously sweet berries for a couple of weeks, but have since stopped fruiting, and are now growing new, healthy looking green foliage.  I have spotted a few flowers, so hopefully we will have more strawberries soon.  The squash that are with the corn are thriving and are currently growing about 6 straight-neck yellow summer squash, but only one of the plants that is in a pot alone is growing, but has yet to produce a fruit.  Likewise, the pole beans that are growing with the corn are thriving, large, and have started flowering, while the bean that is alone is slowly dying off.  The corn with the other veggies is thriving, and interestingly enough, one of the the stalks has actually branched off into 4 different stalks.  I did not know that was possible, but one article I read said not to prune it.  Rather, it said it may possibly produce more corn fruits, and will likely help with fertilization (and I need all the help I can get there!).   The corn growing alone is growing, but is yellow and about 1/2 the size of the other 2, so I don’t know if will do anything.  My carrots, which are all planted with tomatoes, are thriving.  Out of curiousity, when we thinned the other day, there was a very small diameter purple root on one, and we tasted it just for kicks.  It actually had the flavor of a carrot already!  The tomatoes with the carrots are thriving, big, and bushy, and I am hoping for fruit soon, while the other 2 lone plants are doing ok.  At least they seem to be healthy, if not as lush.  1/2 my broccoli is doing well, while the other 1/2 is either dead or barely hanging on.  One in particularly seems to be thriving, and I hope to get broccoli from it.  I also have letttuce and a few melons which were planted later, so it is yet to be determined how they are doing. 

This is no doubt a learning experience, and even if we aren’t able to get much out of it, it has been and is incredibly educational.  The kids are learning an appreciation already for the time and effort it takes to produce just one meal, and that is a priceless lesson in this modern age of instant supermarkets and out-of-season veggies!

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you , nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”  We hear that some among you are idle.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.  And as for you, brother, never tire of doing what is right. 

 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13

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