Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Foggy morning.

We woke to fog this morning. The kind of thick fog that makes it feel as if the whole world you live in is entirely present.  Like there's nothing else beyond... There were blue skies past the fog, but it kind of felt like a snowglobe. I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I know that I am grateful for my wonderful partner, my family and my friends. I am grateful to live in such a beautiful place and glad I get to share it with you all. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, spent with loved ones lingering over good, real food. Hopefully locally-grown... 

For me, Thanksgiving isn't really about the big turkey and trimmings meal, it's about friends and family getting together and sharing their lives. Telling stories, laughing, remembering. It's the first day of the holiday season, which for me isn't about shopping, but about being with loved ones, about special treats, cocktail toasts, and remembering good times and making new memories... I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Yellow Taxi. This year's star tomato.
Persimmon Orange
A Perfect Heirloom.
Bowls of Principe Borghese Tomatoes
This past summer, I expanded the varieties of tomatoes I grew. I planted tomatoes of nearly every hue: red, orange, white, yellow, purple, and black. I grew big tomatoes and small. Determinate and indeterminate types. I started them earlier indoors and when I planted them outside, I put them closer together which seems to have yielded far more tomatoes than I got last year. And that's in spite of the drought that plagued us this summer. Luckily I was able to water and didn't lose too many. Of course, when you plant over 400 tomato plants, "not too many" might have been 100-125 plants. Including all of the Federle roma tomatoes I'd planted. While hardening the flat of about 80 plants, one morning I found that some animal had nested in the flat the night before. I was able to revive about 25 of them enough to get them into the garden about a month later, but they were too weakened to handle it, and all perished. I replaced them with Red Roma plants I bought from Rural King, and those plants did surprisingly well.

By far, the variety that did the best this year was Yellow Taxi. The fruits were generally about the size of a plum, bright yellow, and sweet. The beauty of them was they had very little acidity, which meant they didn't make my tummy hurt when I ate too many. And I ate a lot of them. I had about a dozen, maybe twenty, plants, and they were the first to produce and at frost time, were still laden with ripening fruit. I think they will become a standard of my garden.

Persimmon Orange and Woodles Orange were the two orange varieties I planted. The Persimmon were slightly larger (at the size of a big apple) than the Woodles (plum-sized), but both were equally meaty, firm, and with low acidity. I probably won't grow both at the same time, but both will be grown again in the future. White Queen amazed us at Three Persimmons Farm. Huge translucent beauties with slightly pink centers, these tomatoes were delicate if left too long on the vine, but otherwise, meaty, sweet and completely acid-free. They were made for eating whole, slightly chilled... Truly an amazing experience was that first bight of the White Queen. Last year, we were blown away by our friend's Black Krim tomatoes. These nearly-black, large tomatoes exploded with flavor. This year, I suspect they competed with the Black Cherokee for space in the garden and on our table. Both were similar, both delicious. I think I only need to grow one or the other. I grew Green Sausage tomatoes this year, excited at the thought of sausage-shaped green tomatoes. I imagined them surprisingly sweet and a delight on the table. Instead, I never knew when they were ripe until it was too late. They were my biggest disappointment. The favorite tomato I grew last year was Matt's Wild Cherry. They were my best seller at the market, too... Tiny little mouth-punches of tomato. Many of them grew as volunteers in the garden this year, and I planted two rows of them. And they were every bit as delicious as they were last year. The plants are fun because they don't need staking, but instead sprawl out in every direction, climbing and clambering over anything nearby. And they are freeking prolific. In fact, the dogs are still eating slightly freeze-burned wild cherries now. But, as my dad can attest to, they are not pleasant to pick. They are low to the ground, and because there are so many, if you have any desire to finish a job, it's nearly a Sisyphean effort to pick them all. Once they're picked, though, and on your salad (or just in a bowl being eaten by hand) all the work is forgotten.

Another surprise tomato this year was the Principe Borghese tomato. According to the seed catalog, this is the main variety used for drying in Italy. I didn't dry any, but my gosh, these were wonderful. The plants are short and sturdy, and needed staking (although they supposedly don't). But they were really prolific, covered all season long with evenly-sized kumquat-sized perfectly firm fruit. These little babies were meaty and great in sauces, in salads, roasted... and then I froze about thirty pounds of them for use this winter. A real joy that I will definitely grow again.

I also grew a few other varities.. Italian Heirloom, Red Roma, and perhaps a few others... They didn't make much of an impression.. but were happily eaten all late-summer and autumn long. Late September, early October was the best time for tomatoes this year... and they were a joy to pick. Cool evenings, the vines covered in nasturtium flowers, marigolds nearby, the wonderful citric scent of the tomato leaves, the dogs next to me eating as many tomatoes as they could... those were the days!

I walked the dogs through the garden this morning. It was covered in thick frost and veiled with misty fog as the sun slanted through the woods. As the dogs scrambled to eat some of the leftover frozen fruit, I imagined it next summer... alive and growing again with the promise of an excess of tomatoes. I am truly addicted to the garden, and that makes me very happy. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The garden's still chugging along!

Paprika slowly ripening.
Weeks ago, before our hard freezes, I covered the paprika plants because they were laden with very slow-ripening fruit and I didn't want to lose it if I could hang on to it... and I decided to cover some of the nearby flowers, just to keep some color in the garden, and because the cosmos got such a late start blooming, I felt bad for them... The results are here, or some of them at least. A row of paprika is just about ready, and a huge chunk in the center of the now mostly-dead garden is alive with color, and buzzing with insects. It's really quite striking, even from the road. Despite the hard freezes, I was surprised yesterday to pull a pound of red roma tomatoes off the otherwise dead vines of those plants. I'd left them uncovered, thinking I was just giving up on the unripened fruit... but somehow it survived. There are a few other things still growing in the garden: celery, some greens, radishes and other things. I'm certain the potatoes I planted are still in the ground... and hopefully they're not rotting... we've had a lot of rain the past two months! In fact, although today is forecast to hit 80, that is after several days of rain and thunderstorms... I'm not complaining, of course... we need the rain, and I love the storms!

So that's what's going on outside in the garden. Indoors, I am nearly finished processing the bounty from the garden. I froze ten pounds of peppers the other day (Jalapeno & Maule's Red Hot) and have frozen at least ten pounds of little roma tomatoes. Last night I dried the last of the mint... in the microwave. I had read that it was an effective way to dry herbs, and since my dehydrator broke over the winter, I figured it was worth a shot. And I am very impressed with the results: I placed the leaves in between two paper towels and microwaved on high for 2 minutes. The result: vibrantly green, perfectly dry herbs. I think I may have a new method of saving the herbs from my garden! Two weeks ago, a friend came by and we spent a gorgeous (and windy) afternoon canning. Cherry Tomatoes, nearly ten pints of roasted salsa with Tomatoes, Onions, Tomatillos, assorted Peppers, and Cilantro. Only the cilantro wasn't from the garden, unfortunately. We also made two quarts of Ratatouille with peppers, eggplants and tomatoes from the garden. And about five pints of pickled pepperoncini I grew... All told, we had almost 25 pints of canned deliciousness for about six hours of work... not too bad. 
Cosmos and marigolds still blooming!

Monday, October 1, 2012


From top left: Lemon balm, Basil Osmin, Purple Basil, Variegated Sage, Lettuce Leaf Basil, Chocolate Mint, Lemon Basil, Mint.
I've been making herb infusions of vodka for years, and yesterday afternoon, two friends joined me in making them out at the farmhouse. I'd assembled a large variety of fresh-picked herbs and we gathered together the spices we'd need. After an initial toast of two-year-old (and perfectly mellow and lovely) basil liqueur, we commenced to infusing. The infusions I made are shown below. Clockwise from upper left: Aquavit, Lemon-Coriander, Mint Bourbon, Purple Basil, Lemon Balm, Sage-Lemon. The Lemon-Coriander and Sage-Lemon are going to be Snaps, delicious Scandinavian concoctions meant to be slammed quickly. You get a warm feeling in your chest followed by the lingering flavor of the herbs. The Aquavit will be aged for a few weeks before I filter it and begin slowly drinking it. Again, it's meant to be more of a shot than a sipper, but the times I've made it before I've enjoyed sipping it and savoring the mixture of spices (caraway, cumin, star anise, cinnamon, dill, coriander among others). The Lemon Balm infusion is bound to be turned into a liqueur with the addition of a simple syrup and a few more months' aging. I'm going to leave the Purple Basil as an infusion, removing the leaves once they've imparted their color and flavor to the vodka. It'll be wonderful as a martini or with soda water... And the mint bourbon will be for the holidays, We had herbs leftover (those that I didn't send home with my friends, I chopped up and froze in a little water to be used this winter) and more ideas than we had vodka for. We used a couple of great books as recipes and advice: Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad and Infused by Leigh Beisch. Making these concoctions was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful autumn day with friends at the farm...
The infusions infusing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's not just produce...

These are some several-day-old zinnias. I brought them in to the office for my coworker, hoping they would brighten her day. (They did!) I love zinnias. I love how they look like fireworks, frozen nearby. I love their multitude of colors and surprising shapes. I love how long they last, cut; that the more I cut them, the more they grow outside. Last year they kept flowering way past the first frosts, until they were perfectly frozen by the big hard freeze in early November. The garden is full of zinnias, cosmos and marigolds. My herb garden is full of four o'clocks and there are sunflowers in front of the barn. I think growing flowers among veggies is so important. Not only does it create food and living space for good things like bees, birds and butterflies, but they provide a welcome break in their riots of color. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Picture of the Day

Sunset last night, while walking the dogs just past the garden, before a night of storms. It was warm, humid, and it sounded like a whole host of owls were hooting...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The first eggplants... Listada di Giada

This was a 42 pound harvest...
As I type this, I can hear rain on the roof. We woke to thunderstorms this morning. After getting basically no rain from June 11 through August, September has been extremely wet... I've measured over 16" of rain at the farm. The second week of September, the weeds looked liked they had the upper hand. I spent an entire weekend tackling the weeds, first with a weed-whacker, and then on my hands and knees. That weekend left me sore and allergy-rattled, but the garden looking like a proper garden again. Then I was able to concentrate on the harvesting.... which really, I'm not keeping up with. I've encouraged my friends to come on out and take what they want. And a few of them have come out and helped themselves to tomatoes and basil. I tend to send visitors to the house home with tomatoes, okra, peppers or squash... All of them have been doing very well. This past weekend, I noticed that many of the tomato and basil plants were a little overwhelmed by sprouting grasses. But then we got our first frost Monday morning, and I was glad they had that protective covering! Here was a time when not keeping up with the weeds may have worked out in my favor! On Sunday, I had harvested all of the remaining eggplants (both the Listada di Giada pictured above, and another variety called Slim Jim, whose fruit look like the traditional purple eggplants, only much skinnier!) and was glad to have done so because all the eggplants were covered in a glistening layer of frost yesterday morning. And now rain, thunderstorms, and wind. I don't think we'll be close to freezing again for a few weeks, which will enable me to get more harvested. And then to concentrate on trying to preserve all of this bounty. As it is, we're eating incredibly decadent salads at nearly every meal. Salads that consist almost solely of sliced tomatoes. Nothing else. Just a mixture of varieties, that eaten together are really the height of cuisine. My Mom & Dad visited over the weekend, and it was nice to be able to show them the garden... Especially with its abundant produce, lots of wildlife (birds, butterflies, and rabbits!) and bobbing rows of cosmos, zinnias, and marigolds. (The marigolds I'm especially proud of... they're HUGE this year... some standing at least three feet high!) My Dad helped pick tomatoes on Saturday. I set him loose in the Matt's Wild Cherry patch. He may not forgive me. He kept saying the plants need to be three feet higher so there isn't any bending required. But there is a ton of bending required when picking tomatoes, and a lot of reaching and awkward angles. He was sore the next day, and then decided that the $4/pound I was charging last year to be an obscenely low price. Especially when he only picked a pound of tomatoes, and it took him over a half an hour. But eating them, you know they're worth the effort.
Last week the farmers around the farm harvested their commodity corn. It had all turned black, with small ears of corn that didn't look entirely formed. Really,it looked sad, and I wasn't too sad to see it go. In its wake, our horizon is deeper, we can see the deer in the fields and beautiful return of murders of crows and flocks of blackbirds. In some ways, I am surprised it is already harvest time. I feel as if I just finished planting (I was still planting in July!) and am only now able to walk around the garden and marvel at the beauty of the okra flowers, or the ways cabbage flower (which means I missed harvesting some of them!) and already now I'm talking of frosts and rushing around picking up persimmons before the dogs eat them all. How quick it all flies...
In between my rows of okra, a combine harvests the commodity corn across the street.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Picture of the Day

I know it has been the whole summer since I last posted. Broken computer, full-time job & full-size garden left me with little time to post. I'm sorry. Here, the harvests begin...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Antique Cultivator

My new, antique cultivator.
My neighbor, Alvin, told me the other day that he was ready to bring over the antique plow he found for me. He bought it in Paris. (Illinois, just east of Charleston.) I didn't know he had been looking for a plow for me, or that he'd gone ahead and purchased one and restored it. It came with a plow attachment, but he was glad to find a cultivator attachment, and put it on for me. He brought it over Wednesday afternoon and showed me how to use it. I was smitten by it from the moment I saw it: wood and iron and such a sleek design. Completely utilitarian, but useful with elegance. The way they don't do things any longer. Alvin showed me how to apply varying degrees of pressure to let the machine pull out the weeds, and then till the soil. It's going to work fantastically. We were going to buy a rear-tine tiller this summer because it'll be useful for weeding and for cultivating the soil before I plant. But we just hadn't gotten around to it, and right now, there is no reason to buy one. This is going to work great. And it only cost me $35. That's a steal, I think!
The cultivator in action...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The harvest begins...

Even as planting in the garden continues, some things are ready to harvest. This morning I pulled out two gorgeous radishes... One a new variety for me, Cincinnati Market (the long red one) & the other an Easter Egg radish, from seed in saved from last year... I must say that the quality of the garden's soil is much-improved over last year, which is showing up in the higher quality of produce coming out of the garden. Bon appetit!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A long overdue update.

A little, dazed, & confused opossum.
The garden this afternoon.
So it's been a long while since I've written. I apologize. I hope you haven't lost the will to keep on reading! Things have been changing here quite a bit. Just over a month ago, I started (another!) new job. This one is a day job in Human Resources, something I've done in the past, and I'm very happy in my new situation. But working a full-time day job does mean that there had to be some adjustments to my approach to the garden. I most likely won't be able to sell at the farmers' market this year. Rich has said that he may sell there some weeks. But we won't be committing to being a weekly presence at the market. That does make me sad, as I had a lot of fun selling my produce last year. Mostly I had fun talking to folks about the produce I had for sale, even if I didn't sell nearly as much as I'd hoped to. So what does this mean for Three Persimmons Farm? Well, it's still going strong. In fact, I think I'm a bit further along than I was last year. Although by this date last year, I had many more plants in the ground, I was already beginning to lose the battle to the weeds. I started tomatoes and peppers and eggplants earlier this year, and the seed room in the garage has been most productive. There has been a minor disaster in that room, though: I first noticed that the Brussels sprouts and broccoli I was growing were being eaten, presumably by a little insect. Then it spread to the nearby tomatoes and peppers plants. I've had to bring whole flats outside to start hardening off earlier than I'd planned, mostly to expose whatever it is that's eating my plants to the world at large, hoping that outside they'll get predated. In the seed room, it seemed the insect pests were the top of the food chain. Taking the plants outside seems to have slowed down the insects. Today is Sunday, May 20, and we've just had the first thunderstorm in over a week. I measured just over a quarter of an inch of rain. It hailed briefly, but not enough to do any damage I could see. Earlier today I hoed up three rows in the garden that I plan on planting this week. So far, I've got lettuces, radishes, mustard greens, some squash and beans and potatoes, all of the Black Krim tomatoes, some of the White Queen tomatoes, some basil and cucumbers in the ground. I started planting marigold seed yesterday as well. I started them early indoors last year, but realized that they grew just as quick planted directly by seed. The peas were a total loss this year. I don't know why they never came up, but none of the over 500 peas I planted came up. Sad. Yesterday I pulled up the weeds around the trellis (in the foreground in the picture above) I had installed for the peas and replaced them with tomatoes. The grass is coming on strong, but the plants I intend to be there are doing better. I noticed that all the red romaine lettuce had been cropped... rabbits. I fertilized with fish fertilizer in the hopes that rabbits don't like the smell of the sea... I still have many more cucumbers, squashes, melons, potatoes, peppers, okra, and more to go into the ground... I am hoping to work an hour or two every evening I get home to get as much as I can by June 1. For some reason, I feel that's a magic date that most of the garden should be in by...

Although I won't be at the Farmers' Market regularly, I still plan on selling via subscription, and then canning and freezing as much as possible. Life here on the farm has been going great... Our landlord bush-hogged a path to the pond, and afterward, I saw the opossum above... he was dazed and confused. (As I took the picture, a snake slithered over my sandals.) I've also seen the mink that lives in the barn, a skunk hanging out in the garden (Rich says he could smell the skunk last night, but I slept through that...), as well as a few wild turkeys in the corn field across the road. As I type, a lazy mist is rising from the garden and the corn fields around the house and another thunderstorm is slowly lumbering its way toward us. It's the end of another great weekend here in Hutton!

Monday, April 30, 2012


Over the past few days, we've had so many thunderstorms. Friday into Friday night, they seemed to roll in, one after the other: lighting, thunder, rain & repeat. We went to bed last night, knowing a complex of storms was working its leisurely way northeast. The lightning woke me up around 4:30. The thunder woke the dogs up a bit later. Judging by the frequency of lightning lighting up the room, I was waiting for the weather radio to go off. But, as dawn broke, the storm seemed to lose its umph, and I got out of bed to a lovely, steady rain. In fact, we haven't had any severe weather in a good bit. I know eventually we'll get some storms that verge on the scary. And, since I've become a trained weather spotter, I haven't been able to use my training. But that is something to be glad about. Anyway, here are some pictures of a storm building just north of the barn this afternoon, as I walked the dogs around, drinking a lovely apple vodka cocktail!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Days It Really Feels Like A Garden

Rushing home from work to try and get in as much work in the Seed Room as possible before leaving for "Godspell"rehearsal, I walked into the positively steamingly hot seed room to find a veritable garden growing. Sometimes it seems like I should plant more, but then I look around me... Hundreds of tomatoes and peppers. 40 eggplant. At least 40 celery. 25 cabbages. Basil, oregano, lovage, anise hyssop, one onion all growing on the shelves Rich built. Outside in the garden proper, after several inches of rain over the weekend, the green is creeping over the tilled soil. Soon I'll be back out in the garden... But not on the same schedule as I'd planned for the season. I started a new job at the local university's HR department for the summer... An exciting prospect to do some rewarding work outside of the garden, and limiting the hours available to till and toil is providing a  focus I think I lacked last summer. As I type this, the cast and band prepares for rehearsal. I'd love for everyone to see the Charleston Community Thrust Theatre's production of "Godspell"this weekend... And eat some of my fresh veggies...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Picture of the Day

An evening walk with the dogs & Rich as the sun set. I realize once again what a beautiful place we live in. Woke to thunderstorms followed by hours of rain, sunset brought a brief reprieve... Before more severe weather predicted for tomorrow night...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Freeze Warning

Just as sunset began this evening.

The garden... it looks drier than it is.
Well, after an extended nearly summer-like late winter, now that it's spring, we're finally getting some calendar-appropriate weather. There's a freeze warning for tonight and tomorrow night. I don't really have much to bring in, and am going to hope that the perennials can tough it out...

The seedlings growing in the garage are all doing very well. In fact, I think they've all grown about an inch just today! I'm out of room for more flats, but need to get more started over the next few days... I still haven't started all the varieties of peppers and tomatoes I'm growing. I'm close to being finished, but not quite. (That last sentence is a lot like saying "I'm close to being crazy, but just haven't realized it yet.")

The garden looks very dry. I watered it this morning, and realized it's just the clay soil that makes it seem so dry. Underneath, it's pretty good still, and by the end of the day, a lot more peas and lettuce and radish had poked through the soil. I put in another row of seeds this afternoon. Peas, lettuces, radishes, carrots. Two of the four varieties of radish I planted are from seed I saved from last year. They were very delicious types: French Breakfast and Easter Egg... you'll have to try them sometime. While I was puttering in the garden today, the neighbor across the road was planting their corn. Three tractors working for hours. I worked for hours too, and got one whole row planted, on my hands and knees... But I know everything I harvest from my garden is going to be Delicious. Capital D Delicious.

And with that, I shall go. Time to put away the dog treats I made this evening, and then time to start dinner for us...

Friday, April 6, 2012

The garden getting tilled.

The garden this evening.
 It's Friday, April 6. The sun is setting on what has been a cool and gorgeous day. Everything looks so lush outside: the grass that already needs mowing, the lilacs, the tulips,  and the trees are nearly fully in leaf. The forecast calls for a week of cool, dry weather.

Well, this week, I finally did some planting directly in the garden. Tuesday was gorgeous, and I went out into the sunny day and started working the soil. It felt fantastic. (Working in the garden again, and the soil.) My neighbor, Frank, did a wonderful job tilling the garden this year. The soil is deeply tilled, and feels alive in your hands. I've put in three rows, each about 42 feet long and about two feet wide. Two of them are planted with a variety of peas, radishes and greens. One row of peas are standard shelling peas, and the other a variety called Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokker. They're supposed to have "stunning violet-blue pods produced on lovely little bush plants that do not require staking" according to the Baker Creek seed catalog. The peas were violet colored!
Radishes I planted are long red ones called Cincinnati Market, Round Black and White. As for greens, I've planted red romaine, crisp mint lettuce, arugula, and mustard greens. I've got more varieties of everything to go in once the ground is dry enough to work... We got about an inch and a half of rain mid-week, so am currently waiting for it to all soak in.

The first peas are up! (& a crawdad has made a home among the radishes!
And inside, the garden is going along too... In the seed room in our garage, I've got eggplants, celery, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, peppers, spinach,  and herbs growing. The tomatoes, spinach and cabbage all seem to be doing very well. It's almost time to start transplanting the seedlings out of the flats they're growing in into larger pots. I'm going to make these pots, starting tonight, out of newspaper. That way they can go right into the ground and I don't have to buy anything else. There's been a lot going on this week, and some of it may affect my time in the garden this week... I'll let ya'll know once it's official. Until then, take care, and enjoy this spring weather!

Tomatoes, eggplants & spinach.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Picture of the Day

Done of the lilacs blooming in the yard. I've been burying my face in them everytime I walk past... And they scent the whole yard. Glorious!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Picture of the Day

Am I ever glad I didn't plant yesterday! Late in the afternoon, as I was bringing in the laundry from the line and gathering lemon balm leaves for a little cocktail hour with friends (lemon balm gin martinis... Delicious!), my neighbor pulled into the garden to do some more tilling. He doubled the size of the garden now ready for planting to about 84' by 42'. Next project: getting peas in the ground!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring really seems to be here.

The garden as of today.

The plants of the garden as of today.
 It is Tuesday afternoon, March 27. The wind is howling past my office windows as I type. The sun is drifting lazily across my desk. It is warm: 76 right now. But I've decided it was too windy to plant today. Especially since I wanted to plant lettuce seeds -- so tiny, and so prone to flying out of my hand. One morning this week, I plan on getting lettuce, peas and radishes into the ground. It's just about time. It's felt more like summer than spring for the past few weeks. Here, and just about every place in the U.S. east of the Rockies. But I know that last year just about everything I planted in late March and early April drowned in all the rain last April. So I don't mind waiting a little bit. In the seed room in the garage, there is spinach, celery, onions, two kinds of basil, and cabbage coming up. Two varieties of eggplants, eight varieties of tomato, along with thyme, oregano and cumin have also been started. Rich has been building me shelves on which to grow my seedlings. They're perfect. I've got a portable heater on low in the room, which, when combined with the moisture and the smell of the dirt and things growing makes the room nearly heavenly to walk into...

On St. Patrick's Day, our neighbor, Frank, mowed the garden. Rich saw him driving down the driveway in his mower, then veer toward the garden. I chatted with him for a bit, and thanked him for helping out. About an hour later, I look outside to see the same neighbor plowing the field. He tilled up a fairly large portion of the garden, almost exactly 25' by 40'. And although it looks very small compared to the rest of the garden, it's honestly about how much space I actually used last year. I don't know if he's coming back to plow any more... but don't think so. My plan is to plant that space, and then till more with the help of my friends Sherry & Andrea, who have a much grander farm than mine just a mile west of here. But it's been exciting to march the dogs out near the tilled soil and imagine working it... I'm ready! If only the weather will truly cooperate. I must say that this late winter summer snap had me ready to plant... but I keep waiting for winter's last hurrah...
Dandelions... I think they're beautiful.
It's been feeling more like spring lately. The crocuses are done. Our daffodils are done. There are huge swaths of beautiful, tiny violas in the grass. And dandelions everywhere. I keep meaning to gather all these dandelion flowers and learn how to make dandelion wine... (If there is anyone in the vicinity who knows how to make dandelion wine, and wants to work with me... let me know. These are organic dandelions!) The pear tree and both apple trees are blooming. There are bees everywhere (and so many wasps near the house). The lilacs just started blooming this morning, and I noticed the first buds on the mulberry tree. The tulips from last year are blooming like little tear-shaped snowdrops. And the tulips I planted in January are up... in beautiful shades of purple and red. Frankly, it's beautiful.

The lilacs are blooming!

The pear tree is blooming!
The early peepers have stopped. All grown up already, I guess, because at night we are already hearing the deeper sounds of larger frogs. The owls seem closer, and at times so do the coyotes. A few times over the past week, we've seen the most gorgeous pheasant down the road. And also a beautiful fox walking alongside Westfield road on the way home from work around ten at night... I was talking with a neighbor of ours the other week, and he told me he'd seen a coyote casually walking down his driveway while he walked to fetch his newspaper one foggy morning. He said he was a little disturbed by how large and unafraid the coyote seemed. I told him I'd seen a strange animal the other night, as I pulled into the driveway. It was low to the ground, mostly black or dark, with a long slightly bushy tail. Almost skunk-like, but definitely not a skunk. I told him it ran into the barn. He said it sounded like a mink. I like thinking we've got a mink living in the barn. Along with the rabbits under the porch, and the neighborhood owls (apparently both barn and Great Horned), having a mink in the barn makes me feel happy. There was an article in the paper the other day about bobcats, and how wildlife officials no longer think they're extinct in Illinois. There have even been some unconfirmed sightings here in Coles County... both my neighbor and I would like to think there could be bobcats living in the woods surrounding our branch of Hurricane Creek.

This warm weather, these blooming plants, the returning creatures have me most generally happy. I've been wanting to hang out with friends, cook together, throw some bags and drink some summery cocktails. Of course, since it's not summer, and I now work nights, this has not come to pass in the way I hope... but soon.

The garden is coming together... growing steadily in the garage, while the soil readies itself to welcome the plants... There are returning plants from last year: mint, lemon balm, parsley, cilantro, tansy, borage and hollyhocks. Leeks and garlic I planted late last summer are rising steadily in the raised beds. I've already picked some mint and dried some chives I picked this week... spring is definitely here! And now the work begins.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Picture of the Day

A vulture flying over the yard. At the time I snapped the picture, it looked much closer!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Parsley !

Today I realized that I live someplace that parsley is a perennial... Here is one of the parsley plants, coming back alive after our not-very-impressive winter...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This year's first edibles!

The wild garlic patch in the garden is up. I noticed it yesterday while walking the edge of the garden. This is a plant I didn't know about until I moved here. I've been treating it like scallions; picking some now and again. They taste just like garlic, and are excellent in scrambled eggs, salads, or sauces. I've noticed a lot more this year than I did last. I'm not sure if that's due to the mild winter or my now knowing how delicious they are, and now seeing them more readily... Whatever the reason, for me they are harbingers of the arrival of spring!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Picture of the Day

Some more crocus crocus blooming in front of the barn on a day in between storms.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Picture of the Day

It's been a windy, kinda snowy, cold day... But at least sunset looks cheery!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pictures of the Day

Watching thunderstorms build is one of my favorite pastimes. Today's forecast calls for storms before snow. I love how the skies are just beginning to look ominous.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Dark

The house from the front yard at 6:45 this evening.
I just took the trash out to the curb.

Well, we don't really have a curb. But there's a spot at the end of the gravel driveway, just past the culvert, next to the road, where we leave our trash and recycling cans to get picked up. I walked out there without a flashlight, although it was 6:30 and already dark. Stepping out into the blustery, rainy, and still rather warm evening, I was surprised by how dark it was. In the distance, to the south, I could see the lights of the towns of Casey and Greenup reflected in the clouds above. Otherwise, nothing but blackness. Perhaps my eyes hadn't adjusted to the dark, having just stepped out of the fairly bright (and full of music from the record player) kitchen, but it was dark. I stumbled a bit walking down the driveway pulling the trash can along behind me, but that may have been my own clumsiness. By now I know the slight westward curve of the driveway, and can feel it with my feet. But still, without stars, it is dark here. I've often mentioned the stars, and how amazing they are here in the country. But I don't think I've really talked about the dark. And how thorough it is here. It's something rather unnerving, really. As a guy who grew up in cities, I never really knew what dark was. When we first arrived, we were amazed -- nearly blown over -- by the stars. But it's on cloudy and windy nights like tonight that I know what night is. When I turned around, I could see the lights from the house. In real life, they appear much brighter than my camera was able to capture. The house looks warm, and festive, even though beyond the lights, no sound other than the howling wind and the mad windchimes could be heard. And over the house's shoulder, the lights of Charleston, glowing in the sky. So tonight, it's dark.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And a week suddenly passes

Kerouac & Happy frolicking in the snow. 

Okra & Cosmos in the snow.

The fog came in waves across the empty fields.
 It's been nearly a week since I've last posted. I'm not exactly sure what I've done during this past week. I mean, I'm sure I did plenty: I read a lot, I cooked some food, I caught up on television sitting on our DVR, I worked on a puzzle, I visited with friends, I got a job. This past fall, I got a job at a local call center. I was told it would be mostly customer service, but it was mostly sales, which is something that I just can't do. And I lasted just about four months at it. Since then, I have been looking for work, and procrastinating looking for work. But the temp agency I worked for before called and said they had a job that is really customer service, and would I be interested in interviewing. So next Monday, I'll start doing work as a tech support agent for a local telecommunications company. I'm not thrilled about the hours (I'll be working until ten o'clock at night, and on weekends), but these hours will mean I'll still be able to garden and sell at the farmers' market this summer. Important things to consider. I may not see Rich for dinner daily like we've grown used to, nor will I see my friends as often as I'd like, but I need to be working, and it seems like I'll enjoy the job. So I have one more week before it starts. I've got a lot of work to do before I start working. I'm hoping to get flats built to start seeds in soon. I'm hoping to finalize my seed orders and get the seeds on their way. I've spent a lot of the past week with my head buried in seed catalogs, dreaming about summer... I have to admit that when I picture the plants growing, I tend to picture a weed-free, pest-free world of perfectly ripe fruit, abundantly growing. I know that the reality is often quite different. But when we open a jar of BBQ sauce, or canned tomatoes, or fruit preserves, all the work that went into growing that food is realized: it is worth it. The ability to eat food, real food, locally grown without pesticides, or chemicals, or genetically-modified seeds is so worth it. And I know that with my taking a full-time job, the garden may be more like a hobby garden this year, and not a full-scale farm. Yet.

I've been reading a book called "Growing a Farmer" by Kurt Timmermeister. He's a man who owned and operated restaurants for many years in Seattle before becoming a farmer full time. He has a small dairy and makes and sells his cheeses. He also raises hogs and chickens for food, and keeps a garden as well. While I do imagine making my own cheeses some day, the aspect of his life that really excites me are the weekly dinners he offers on his farm. Every Sunday (I'm not sure if it's just during the growing season or not), he opens up his kitchen for a meal made entirely from food from his farm: honey, meat, dairy and vegetables. This is something I've talked about with friends, and if it's possible to do, would be something I would love taking on sometime. One of the great things I am being reminded about in this book is that the transition to farming is not done overnight. It took him ten years from the time when he bought the run-down farm on Vashon Island, working on the farm on his rare days off from his restaurant until the time he was able to make a living from his land.
If you look closely in the shade, you can see it's frosty.
Taking a job that will likely relegate the garden from being my primary source of income to a secondary, possibly, hobby status, for one year is not a big deal in the long run. It's a necessary step, really, for me to earn more money than the garden can, so I can invest in making the garden profitable. I will still be a lucky, lucky man: able to spend mornings in the cool & quiet of the garden. I will still be able to sell my produce at the market, which was something I really enjoyed doing last year. And I'll be able to can and preserve as much food as possible throughout the growing season so we can enjoy it all year long. I'm trying to stay positive, and not focus on any of the negatives, because frankly, the negatives are really shadowed by the positives.
As I said, in some ways, I don't know how the week disappeared. Weather-wise, it was a week all over the place. It snowed, it rained, it thundered, we had fog and some of the fog froze to the ground. It was warm and it was cold. The crocus are still blooming, and have been joined by even more of their yellow friends. The birds have been particularly enjoyable this week. Flocks of crows in the empty corn fields, cardinals and finches and woodpeckers at the bird feeder. The ominous shadow of a buzzard over the house...
Hopefully a week won't pass until my next post. And hopefully I'll have made progress toward getting ready for this year's garden.