Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Toast & They're Here!

It's Tuesday afternoon, and this morning was the first day in a week that I've been able to dig out new beds and plant in the garden. The soil was perfect for working, and my only wish is that I would have gotten more than two plots planted. But those plots have 24 tomatoes between the two of them (9 Green Grape plants and 13 Blondköpfchen plants), as well as some garlic, marigolds, geraniums and basil. The Blondies are going to be a yellow cherry tomato, I'm very excited about them. All of the plants were a little leggy, and the day was very windy (& hot) so I hope they do alright. Some of the peas died overnight, and about half of the tomatoes I put in two weeks ago have died. I kind of expected those losses, though, since those tomatoes were so small... The ones that survived look like they're doing better... That said, there are still about 80 tomato plants in the garden now. With more waiting. You'll notice the picture to the left here. My friend, Carrie, brought a bottle of ouzo over this afternoon so I can celebrate the first day of the Farmers' Market. I'm going to the market tomorrow, unfortunately, I won't be selling anything. I just don't have anything that's ready yet. I'm hoping that I'll be ready to sell next week. Fingers crossed...

I did start up my Subscription service today. It's basically an email list that I will use to inform my subscribers when things are ready to buy from the farm. It's one in a growing list of experiments regarding this venture! Also something exciting, or nerve-racking: tomorrow I'll be getting inspected by the Charleston Farmers' Market Growers Association members. They'll come out to check out my farm, make sure that I'm following natural, organic-like, growing practices, and that I'm growing what I say I'll be selling. It's to retain their integrity, and I'm all for it. But I feel a bit like I'm taking a test or facing the authorities... and they might tell me I'm not ready for their group, or they might laugh at the way I'm doing things...all kinds of ways for me to worry about it! I did take a look at the garden with a critical eye this afternoon, and spent a frantic hour weeding. I'm learning how to weed with a hoe, and made great strides today. It really makes some quick work against those weeds. There are still too many weeds out there, but at least it looks a little better. Wish me luck!

One final note: they've arrived: the 13-year cicadas! Many of our trees are covered with their discarded shells, and the afternoon air is alive with their mechanical whirr. I'm pretty excited about the prospect of a 13-year swarm of cicadas, only because I don't recall ever having experienced it. We'll see how I feel next week when it's been going on for a while...

Thanks for reading! Hope to see you at the Farmers' Market (some time...)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stuck in the garden

The rainy garden.
We've been waiting since Saturday for really big storms, and yesterday they hit. We woke up in a tornado watch, and wave after wave of storms blew over us. We were in town having dinner for a friend's birthday when the air raid sirens went off. Outside, the sky was green and extremely ominous. Inside, most of the patrons at the restaurant were concerned, but the staff didn't seem bothered at all. They urged us all to stay put, saying the building had weathered over a 100 years of storms so far. That didn't really calm my nerves. The sirens went off twice, and we learned that the worst of the weather was just north of town. Roads were flooded in town, because a lot of rain was falling. And the lightning! It was frequent and bright! As it turns out, there were no touchdowns in our county, though there were funnel clouds overhead. We had no damage at home, which was a relief. The garden, though, is basically under water. In my rain gauge, I measured just over 2.5" of rain over the past few days. And as I uncovered the tomatoes and peppers this afternoon, I got stuck in the mud. I had to pull my feet out of the my shoes and then dig the shoes out of the mud. That's when I decided I could do no more out there for the plants. (I had been trying to divert water out of the furrows the plants are in.) So I'm hoping the water doesn't hurt the plants too much. While we were needing some rain, I don't think we needed quite this much. And this week, I had a friend visiting. He'd hoped to spend two days working in the garden. Unfortunately, we only got a few hours' work in: we planted one 28-foot bed of rattlesnake beans. It was a good visit, even if we couldn't get more work done. 

The lemon balm is doing great!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Planted, Covered, Waiting.

Covered Tomatoes

 It's Saturday afternoon. It's cloudy. The predicted storms do not seem to be materializing just yet. But we're supposed to get more this evening and again tomorrow. Over the past week, I've nearly doubled the size of the garden. Yesterday I figured the garden was up to about 1700 square feet, and today I added three new beds, bringing it closer to 1800 square feet. While this is far larger than any garden I've had before, I realize that I have only planted just over a quarter of the garden space that is disced and ready. I also realize that, compared to most of the other farms in the Growers Association, I'm still small beans. Undaunted by my size, though, I've been planting some of the first pepper and tomato seedlings that I started indoors in April. And a lot of beans. I've also got all of the corn and potatoes in the ground. We're growing three kinds of potatoes: Kennebunks, French Fingerling and what I'm calling Rich's Folks'. These last are three leftover potatoes that Rich's parents brought us at Thanksgiving. Just three potatoes is going to give us quite a few potatoes, I'm hoping. As for tomatoes: today I planted a dozen Brandywine heirloom tomatoes. Yesterday, I planted a variety called Illini Star, as well as Matt's Cherry Tomato, Amish Paste, Thessaloniki (an heirloom from Greece!) and Opalka. And of course, the Oxheart tomatoes from my neighbors. Peppers in the ground right now are Jalapeño, Anaheim, Joe's Long Cayenne and Marconi Red (a sweet red pepper). As for beans: Calypso (they look like little orcas!), Asparagus Yard Long, Jade Green, Kentucky Wonder, Jacob's Cattle, Provider, Black Valentine, and Rattlesnake. It does seem that I'm going a little overboard with beans. Especially since I've never grown them. But there were so many cool varieties to try, and I know that last summer we bought a lot of beans at the Farmers' Market, so I figured, why not try to grow them. And I must say, they, along with the squash and cucumbers, are the stars of the garden. They are growing so quickly!

Covered Peppers & Tomatoes
In fact, the garden is starting to look much more like a garden, and a lot less like a plot of overgrown weeds bordering hard, dead clay. The rains of April pretty much wiped out any chance that the early vegetables will be producing early. The peas have finally gotten their wits about them, and are growing surely daily. The arugula, lettuces, onions, carrots, beets and sorrel are all starting to look much more likely that I'll be able to sell them in June. A few of the early beds I planted, though, look like they might not be worth much of anything. One bed, containing beets, tarragon, mace, onions, parsley, cabbage and dill is still pretty much dead. Not even weeds are growing in that one! Weeds. Rich has been helping weed this week, and the effects are surprisingly immediate: the crops I'm growing in beds we've weeded have mushroomed in size, again giving me hope.

The house we rent sits on 40 acres of land. About half of that is leased to another farmer who alternates growing soybeans and corn. I'm assuming he grows genetically-modified seed. Last night and this morning, in about two hours total, he disced and planted both fields with soybeans. I felt decidedly old-fashioned hoeing the ground, watering with my watering can as he drove by with his wide & tall tractor trailing huge equipment to quickly plant his crops. But I take comfort in the fact that I am growing real food. Food I will eat this summer and winter, and food I will happily and proudly sell at the Farmers' Market. I know that his soybeans and corn aren't edible. I don't feel superior, especially standing there, sore, drenched in sweat and covered in gnats & biting flies. Nope. Right now, aside from focusing on trying to get everything in the ground as quickly as possible, I'm keeping my eyes on the beauty of this garden come next month, when the plants are established, and I'm out there watering and mulching and battling insect marauders. And enjoying the flowers and the fruits of all this labor. I must say, though, that working from the lush confines of a tractor looks pretty good. Especially over the past two days, when the gnats and biting flies have come out in droves. I read that a mixture of water and vanilla works at keeping them away. And it does, for about ten minutes. Yesterday was warm and I worked in shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. And I have bites all over my body to prove it. This morning I worked in pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and was able to work without as much bother. I have never seen such aggressive little bugs.

The garden this afternoon.
So the plants are covered. They're still awfully small and over the next few days, the weather service is predicting pretty good chances of severe storms, with high winds, heavy rains and hail. I would hate for all the work I've put in over the past two weeks to get pummeled into the ground or blown out of it. So when Rich suggested he help me cover up all the seedlings, I saw the wisdom in his plan. I'll keep them covered probably until Monday morning, and hopefully they'll be more established and happier plants for it. And in between all these storms, I am hoping to get a lot of weeding and even more planting done. I've got about sixty more tomato and pepper plants waiting to go in the garden. And more beans! And more herbs. And all of the melons and pumpkins and okra. That's next week. Right now, it's time to clean the house, something that has been woefully neglected lately...

Me, decked out against gnats.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's a rainy, lazy, fantastic Sunday...

Oxheart Tomato
 It's a Sunday evening, the day after the day-long party we held yesterday to mark Rich's birthday. As is fast becoming tradition for a Hutton Boys' party, the weather was inclement. After a week of sunny, dry, hot and humid weather, Friday night brought thunderstorms and Saturday dawned with rain. It has been raining on and off, mostly on, since then. At times, the rain fell quite hard, but we didn't let that deter us from a day of outside games and even a bonfire. After all, Rich & I had cleaned out the barn to create a new entertaining area in the center room of the barn. Rich lined it with lights, and we were determined to use it. Our friend, Alyssa, brought Rich a set of bags (I believe the game is also called corn-hole) and our friend, Sam, brought hers, so we were able to have two games going on at once. It was too wet for croquet, but still... fun. We are really lucky we have found such a great community of friends here in Charleston. Not only was yesterday Rich's birthday, but it was the one-year anniversary of the date we first saw and fell in love with this house. It was only a year ago that we drove out to Charleston to find a place to live, and it is surprising to us at how much our lives have changed in that year, and how really lovely it is.

In the rain yesterday, I was able to give a farm tour to some of my non-mud-averse friends. The garden now contains twenty garden plots. Some of the original plots are in desperate need of weeding, but I must say it heartened me to see other people getting excited about the garden, and being able to answer their questions, and even to notice that even more cucumbers, beans, zucchini, and more had sprouted! It's looking more and more like a proper garden every day. Of course, more than half of the garden is dense and green with weeds that I will soon be battling to plant even more.

The other tomatoes.
Thursday morning, two of my neighbors came over bearing tomatoes. Plants, that is. Six oxheart tomatoes. The plants came from seeds they've been saving for four generations, and I accepted the plants with the promise to save the seeds from them. Absolutely. The oxheart is a big, meaty slicing tomato. Dick said that once I eat these, I won't want to grow any other tomato. I don't know if that'll happen. I love too many kinds of tomatoes not to let just one satisfy me! I've never grown this kind of tomato: the oxheart is an indeterminate type, which means it will keep on growing and producing all season. It will need considerable staking, and pinching to keep it's growth in check. I'm excited to try it. I planted the tomatoes in soil mixed with composted manure and mulched them with Saturday's morning newspaper. I planted a row of Genovese Basil and a row of marigold seeds with them. Fingers crossed, it's going to be a delicious plot of the garden!

It's just over two weeks until the farmers' market. I still can't believe it, and know I have an awful lot to do to prepare for it, but I must say I'm beginning to believe that I will have things to sell that first week... The radishes, arugula and lettuces are really coming along. After two days of rain, we're due for a cool and pleasant week, so I imagine the peas and most everything else that's up will really grow quickly. If you need me this week, I'll be out in the garden, weeding.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Garden's Progress...

Wildflowers (weeds)
 It's Tuesday evening. I learned a valuable lesson this morning: get up early, Joe. Get up early and get into the garden. It was hot today (in the mid 80's) and humid, and by 11:30 there was thunder nearby and inside, the weather radio was alerting us to severe weather just to our south. We didn't get anything more than thunder, but with those delays, I was only able to get two plots dug up, tilled and planted. In the past few days, I've managed to get seven plots planted in the garden: More sorrel, lettuce (Iceburg, Australian Yellow Leaf, Amish Deer Tongue, Dandelion), Onions (scallions), Bull's Blood Beets, Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens, Cucumbers (Homemade Pickles and Marketmore 76), Beans (Black Valentine, Provider, & Rattlesnake), Turnips, Lemon Cucumbers, Summer Savory, Black Zucchini, Ronde de Nice Squash, and Country Gentleman Corn. I'm hoping that the rain forecasted the next few days holds off to let me get more planted each morning.

This is a big week here at Three Persimmons Farm. It was a year ago this Saturday that Rich & I first saw our new home. It was Rich's birthday, and we toured it first with the landlord, then the next day, alone in the rain. And we fell in love with it, obviously. What we both recall from that first visit was how green everything was outside, and the irises and peonies blooming. This morning, the irises greeted us when we got up. Some yellow and some purple. And the chives bloomed this morning, too. And the peony, well, I imagine it'll be blooming by this Saturday's anniversary/birthday party (for Rich). The fields around us are blooming with the yellow flowers pictured just above. They're both beautiful and kind of unsightly (when they occur in the yard). This afternoon, after I'd spent six hours hoeing and tilling and planting about 30 square feet of garden, the farmer who leases the land across the road from us started working his farmland. He drove his huge tractor, spreading what we guess is Round-Up to kill all the pretty weeds so he can plant his genetically-modified soybeans. Even though I was aching this afternoon, I was thinking how glad I am to be growing plants the old-fashioned way. Sure, I may find better ways to water, or till, or plant, or grow...but I won't be resorting to chemicals and ecological unsound practices, or producing a product that I wouldn't eat.

The irises in one of our herb gardens.
While I'm still worried I won't have a lot to sell come the first few weeks of the farmers' market, I am now on more familiar territory, planting things like cucumbers and squash, and beans (although I've never grown them before), and knowing that in a few weeks, the garden is really going to look like a garden and less like a hard clay patch. Already the peas and lettuces and radishes are beginning to grow like gangbusters, and each week, we're able to eat a little bit more from the garden. (Last week and tonight, asparagus, picked from a patch on the edge of the garden; and last night, a dandelion salad picked from the fringes of the yard.)

So right now, I'm feeling mostly excited. A little sore, a little sunburned, and a little like I'm on vacation (mostly being sunburned and having cocoa butter on it...) I'm excited that every day I'm able to get up and go outside and work in the sweet-smelling soil, and in a month or so, be able to offer the fruits of my labor...

The garden as of this afternoon...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rain Anxiety

The dogs know what to do.
Last night I couldn't sleep very well. Anxiety kept me up, a feeling in my chest that I couldn't catch my breath. It's less than a month until the Farmers' Market opens, and right now I feel that this garden won't be ready by then. Taking a look at the garden this weekend, yielded nothing but worry for me: seeds not up, plants plastered into the ground by wind, animal prints through the beds, a mole hill through the sorrel, mud and standing water. Over the weekend, we received another 3/4" of rain. Checking on the garden this morning, my boots made sloshing noises and the mud made sucking noises. There will be no work in the garden today. And the sun of this morning is giving way to clouds and the possibility of more rain.

Deer prints through a garden bed.
 The plants growing under the lights are doing well. They're looking lively, thick & full. But outside, the plants, for the most part, aren't looking too well. Like they've had too much rain or something. Some of the peas, though, are growing, as is the arugula, and the lettuce and radishes in the raised bed look healthy. But I am hoping for some dry weather to help the garden out. And I hope the plants start to do as much growing as the weeds!

In more positive news, Herb Fest in Mattoon was a blast. Rich & I met our friends, Sherry & Andrea, there. I bought some herbs (chocolate mint, variegated sage, rosemary, salad burnet and purple basil) that I'm not otherwise growing. We also bought a couple of strawberry plants and a few other plants (a 3 foot tall coleus, a rattlesnake master and one more). On Sunday afternoon, before it started to rain again, I was able to dig out three new beds on the west side of our house. In two of them, we're going to scatter some wildflower seed we bought. In the one nearest what will soon be our new patio, I planted a small herb garden. The rosemary, sage, salad burnet and oregano. As well as hollyhock, nasturtium and four o'clock seeds. And parsley, large leaf basil, cilantro, chervil, and borage. I left some room for basil once it warms up more. I'm hoping this will be a pleasant garden to look at, smell and eat from soon.
Peas & Arugula & Weeds & Mud

I'm hoping this anxiety about the garden passes quickly. (I bet it will once I can get out and work more regularly in it.) These soggy, sunny days are killing me! I've got a few projects to do this afternoon (build a new trellis for the peas, separate potatoes and get them drying so I can (hopefully) get them in the raised bed tomorrow, find a scale for the Farmers' Market) and hopefully shake this dread feeling that come June 1, I'll have nothing to sell...