Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More Record Lows

The sun has just set. The deer that had been grazing in the soybeans across the road have disappeared back into the woods. The dogs are done playing in the yard. The tree frogs and crickets and bats and nighthawks are out, and the first coyotes of the night are talking about dinner. We are expecting record lows in the upper 40's tonight. Again. The forecast for the week is gorgeous -- for mid-October: highs in the low- to mid-70's, lows in the upper 40's and lower 50's. This is most definitely not weather that ripens tomatoes. I feel lucky to have picked a total of about three pounds of tomatoes from the garden so far; all assorted cherry tomatoes and bright yellow taxi tomatoes. The vines (finally all trellised this weekend!) are laden with big beautiful green tomatoes, and little fuzzy green tomatoes, and slightly orange or yellow (but still mostly green) tomatoes. This is just not tomato weather. The plants, though, look lush and green. Every eggplant has at least one fruit on it. The greasy beans are so laden with beans and thick leaves that I had to add wooden supports to the trellis to keep it from falling over. The cucumbers went from not ripe to over-ripe in one day somehow. And although I have picked exactly one dozen okra, the okra plants are still wondering when summer will arrive. 

I gave a few garden tours to friends this week. It is always nice to give a garden tour. When I walk around the garden weeding, harvesting, problem-solving, or watering, all I see is a to-do list. The cabbages need weeding, the tomatoes need more tying-up, the okra needs more heat. But when friends come to see the garden, I get to see so many different things. I forget that most people don't grow as many tomato plants as I do, or that seeing 16 different varieties is a novelty. I love when people see an Amish Cockscomb bloom up close for the first time, or taste a Ground Cherry, or see the neon extravagance of the Celosia in the garden. To have friends take pictures of the garden makes me so happy. And it makes the work worth it, even when in the back of my mind, I worry that there will be no ripe tomatoes, or that I will lose the war against the grasses.

Rich weed-whacked the garden this weekend, which always makes it look instantly better. He mentioned while giving a tour of the garden last week how something was eating our kale. And indeed, the kale that had been robust and thick last week was suddenly hole-ridden and disappearing. Sunday morning I set out to figure out what was wrong. Caterpillars. You know those pretty little white butterflies that fly around the garden? Well their spawn love the cabbage family. And while they haven't found my cabbage patch, they did find the kale. And they went to town: hundreds of little white-striped caterpillars feasting on the undersides of my kale leaves. I pulled them off and squished them. (They popped in quite a satisfactory way.) By the time I was done, my hands were stained green with their chlorophyll-rich blood. I have made a couple of quick return trips and killed a few more, but I am now hopeful the kale will live to see the frost. It reminded me that gardening isn't just growing plants, it is picking which plants (& creatures) live that defines gardening. 

The pictures below: 1) The kale patch Sunday morning, pre-massacre. 2) One of the larger caterpillars. 3) Most leaves had three, five, or even ten caterpillars of varying size (whole families I killed) feasting. 

So I close with a chorus of tree frogs through the open windows. It really is a lovely evening, even if none of my tomatoes are ripening...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

So This Is Summer

I spent much of today working in the garden. Weeded the eggplants and some of the tomato rows. Trellised a few more rows of tomatoes with wire and old mesh screens I have. Watered over half the garden. Picked two cherry tomatoes. 

This has been a very cool summer so far. We haven't had temperatures above about 85 degrees since June. I have row after row of tomato plants with big and little green tomatoes. I have harvested only one yellow Taxi tomato and five cherry tomatoes. I harvested several meals' worth of Royal Burgundy Beans and Greasy Beans. We have eaten a lot of lettuce and cilantro and mustard and that is about it. Otherwise, nothing to harvest yet... and it is August 3rd! It has been this cool and rather moist summer that has slowed the garden to a glacier's pace. 

Rich noted this afternoon that once the tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos ripen, we are going to be buried beneath an avalanche of fruit. And that will hopefully be true! I joked the other night that I will be scrambling to get every blanket from everyone of my friends to ensure a harvest after an early frost. It just seems like that kind of season. 

But I am not complaining. Working in the garden has been a rather pleasant task. Despite the tenacity of the grasses growing everywhere, weeding has not been so much of a chore as it was last year. And it has been beautiful, with all the flowers and the slower pace of growth, I feel I have had time to really enjoy the beauty present in the garden, rather than lurching from one emergency task to another. 

The pictures below: 1) Amish Cockscomb blooming in the center of the garden. 2) The row of lovely orange Cosmos as you enter the garden from the yard. 3) Our first eggplant of the season. 4) The first tomato. 5) The Greasy Beans are doing great! 6) A freshly-trellised row of tomatoes get comfortable.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer...Ever so slowly

It is after July 4th, and I am still not done planting the garden... There are tomatoes, kale, and a few peppers waiting to go into the ground... And there are seeds yet to be planted: some more beans, gourds, winter squash. For these last, it may be too late... But I will still be able to put in onions, potatoes, replacement lettuce, herbs, and collards. The raised beds yielded peas and mustard and lettuce, and this week, I am planning on pulling their remains out and planting lettuces, beets, potatoes, carrots, and onions in the raised beds. 

The garden looks great... Today I got more rows weeded and mulched. I also planted some replacement peppers where earlier plants have disappeared. I also weeded the center of the garden, which will eventually be surrounded by flowers and hold a table and chairs. The celosia and spider zinnias are gorgeous, but the weeds choked out a lot of the other plants. I weeded thoroughly and planted Amish Cockscomb transplants and seeds of zinnias, cosmos, four o'clocks, and nasturtiums. There are a few rows that are in need of weeding this week, but overall, the weeds are in check... 

The good thing about all the rain we have had this summer is I haven't had to water at all. I measured 15.25" of rain during the month of June here at the farm. That is more rain than any other month since we've been here. The ground is still soggy in a few spots, but the water has been a boon to not only the plants in the garden, but the weeds... mostly grasses and thistle, really. 

Today I ate the first ground cherries from the garden this year. Two years ago, I grew these little gems, and loved them. This year, I am growing a variety called Cossack Pineapple. These little ones aren't quite as sweet as the first kind I grew, but these little yellow fruits really taste like pineapple. Delicious. I just harvested cilantro for tonight's dinner. Even across the room, I can smell the citrus scent from those delicate leaves. 

My knees are sore. My fingers keep cramping up from the hours I spent weeding today, but I am satisfied... Growing as much of our own food as I can is exhausting, but so rewarding... And we are in full anticipation of the first ripening tomatoes. There are about a dozen Taxi tomato plants with beautiful ripening fruit on them... perhaps in a week or two?

The pictures are: 1) Greasy beans spreading over their trellis. 2)Celosia getting ready to bloom. 3)The first zinnia. 4)Rows of mulched peppers, tomatoes, and tomatillos. 5)Tomatoes in flowers.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Nearly ten years ago, when I lived in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood, I discovered mulberries. Actually, my dog, Kerouac, discovered them. There was a row of mulberry trees towering over the sidewalk a street or two from our house. Early summer, Kerouac got so excited about the purple covered sidewalks, I couldn't drag him away from there... when I was finally able to get him away, his white muzzle was stained purple and sometimes he would get the hiccups, he'd have eaten so many berries. The trees were so tall: at least 60 feet above the sidewalk, and the ripe berries fell to the ground and smashed when they did... but they were sweet, and irresistible to the dog...

Fast forward to 2011, here in Hutton. There is a bush next to one of our lilac bushes that burst into flower, and as the late spring progressed, I kept waiting for it to burst into blooms... but one day Kerouac went crazy underneath it, and when he looked up at me, wagging, his face was stained purple, I realized we had mulberries. The tree was more of a twenty-foot tall shrub, but still, the same berries I remembered. I harvested the berries by hand that year, eating a lot of them as I pulled them off the branches. I put them in yogurt, and I made a free-form tart out of them, but didn't feel I had utilized them as well as I could have. I also discovered the berries rather late in the season.

Last year, we had no mulberries because of a late freeze that killed them all. It was part of a very sad year for fruit here at Three Persimmon Farm... where the only fruit we had were the persimmons harvested in the fall. But this spring has been wet, cool., and honestly, rather glorious. The pear tree and both apple trees are laden with ripening fruit. And the branches of the mulberry bush (or tree) are hanging down, full of ripening sweet berries. 

Yesterday around noon, I took an old sheet and lay it underneath a section of mulberry branches and then shook the branches as dozens and hundreds of ripe fruit fell onto the sheet. Ten minutes of work yielded over 3 quarts of berries. I picked through them and washed them, and then made a mulberry cobbler recipe I found online... It turned out perfect: a crisp and sweet crust (made even better because our vegetable shortening had gone bad so I had to use lard) and underneath, two cups of whole mulberries mixed with cornstarch and sugar that had congealed into a lovely semi-sweet custard. It may be the best cobbler I've ever made.

This afternoon I used the rest of the berries to make mulberry preserves. I used Pomona's Universal Pectin, agave nectar, lime juice, and mulberries... And I do think it is the best preserve or jam I have made... If you haven't had mulberries, you don't quite know how wonderful they are. They are not as sweet as blackberries, but look similar: tight rather seeded berries that ripen to a luscious reddish-black. They attract a lot of bugs: spiders and little tiny winged bugs that probably just add to their protein content. The berries have a hint of sweetness, but overwhelmingly taste earthy, almost almond-like. I feel like their flavor is a truly unique, and fading, flavor... Yet another old-fashioned taste that I have fallen in love with, along with ground cherries and persimmons... The preserves I made are delicious, if I say so myself, with the nutty, yet sweet flavor of the berries surrounded by a bright citrus flavor form the limes and agave. I will be making more of these preserves this week, as this is only the first of several harvests from the mulberry bush... 

Even though the garden isn't completely planted, at least we are able to harvest other things from the garden... and it feels like this is only the beginning of a great year of harvests and food from the garden.

Below are pictures : First, the mulberry bush. Second a single mulberry in my hand. Third, yesterday's cobbler. Fourth: the mulberries after running them through the food mill. Fifth the mulberry preserves ready to be jarred. Sixth: the finished product, waiting to be enjoyed...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tomatoes are finally in the garden!

It is already the fifth of June, but only today was I able to get some tomatoes transplanted into the garden. With all the storms and rain last week (almost 5" of rain fell here!) the garden was just way too wet to even walk around in it, let alone dig holes for plants. 

But this afternoon when I got home from work the ground in the two fourteen foot long rows I prepped last week was just right for planting. So I picked out two varieties of tomatoes to plant. In one row, I planted thirteen Taxi tomatoes. I grew these last year, and they were some of our tastiest and most consistent tomatoes from the garden. The plants were prolific and produced even, sweet yellow plum-sized fruits all season long. The second variety I planted today is something called the Rainbow Cherry Blend. I ordered them from Botanical Interests, out of Colorado, and they say that the blend will produce a variety of tasty cherry-sized fruits in colors from red to orange to green to purple and white... I am pretty excited about them  

Elsewhere in the garden, most of the seeds I planted are up. Okra, cucumbers, squash, arugula, radishes, and more... Of course with all the rain, the weeds are up too... 

We are supposed to get more rain tonight and tomorrow, but I am hoping that we don't get too much so I can get much more planted this weekend... Here is hoping to a weekend without too much rain... we haven't had a rain-free weekend in many, many weeks...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The First Harvest

A couple of days ago, I walked out to the asparagus patch. I hadn't been out there in a while, and I was excited to find a patch of perfect asparagus among the weeds: spears about 8" tall and perfectly pliable. I picked all that were ready, and walked down toward the second patch, only to find the asparagus on the brink of flowering out. I went ahead and picked it, knowing it will try again. And, knowing the tiny branches taste perfectly fine, and are very good sauteed. So I picked all of that, too, hoping that the plants will produce another round of spears. Yesterday I picked the first bunch of broccoli raab from the raised beds. I picked about a half a pound of bright green mustard-tasting leaves, florets, and perky yellow flowers. Today I pulled about eight perfect radishes from the raised beds and picked enough lettuce from the raised bed to make a big salad. I put all of those things together with some sausage and pasta and feta cheese and made a delicious meal. So excited to be eating fresh food from the garden. I served the lettuce leaves whole, with sliced raw radishes, dressed simply with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Kosher salt and cracked pepper. I sauteed the asparagus and broccoli raab in the fat from the sausages and chicken stock with garlic, then added feta at the end. 

Beyond the pleasures of the tastes on the table, knowing that the vegetables were from the garden, and how they were grown, just added so much to the flavor. This is why I garden!

The first picture is the Broccoli Raab after I picked it. The second, of all the veggies before I made dinner, and the last picture is of the meal!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What a Difference a Week Makes

A week ago, I was making contingency plans for the garden. It had been raining so much and so frequently, that I figured it would be at least two more weeks before the garden would be dry enough to support a tractor. 

I spent much of the weekend repotting seedlings into larger pots because they were getting much too large under the lights. But as I was inside the seed room getting muddy, outside the weather was sunny but cool. And windy. And that wind made all the difference. When I got home Monday afternoon I noticed that the garden plot had been mowed down and disced. When I got home on Tuesday, the garden had been meticulously tilled. We have a neighbor who tilled the garden last year. He tills every garden on our block, actually. It can be stressful not having complete control over when the garden gets tilled, but I know that after Frank tills the garden, it is going to be like butter. Grainy, deliciously rich butter. 

So now the garden is ready to plant. I will start hardening off the seedlings this weekend, (when it is a little cooler and less windy, hopefully) I may put some seeds in the ground this weekend, and finish planning the whole garden. It is very exciting, very exciting indeed!

The first picture is the garden plot Monday afternoon. The second, Tuesday afternoon!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Weather Delay

Today, when viewed from inside, was a beautiful day. Sunny skies, everything bright and green outside. But once you stepped outside, you realized it was much too cool and too windy to be comfortable. Our high was only in the fifties, and currently there is a frost advisory for tonight's clear and cold weather. Despite the cool weather, there was work required for the garden that had to be done today. Many of my tomatillos and tomatoes, planted in soil blocks over the past eight weeks, have grown too large and were starting to show signs of stress: yellowing leaves, roots growing above the soil line. These plants had to be transplanted to larger containers immediately, or they might not make it through the week.

At this time the past over two years, I had been very busy planting in the garden. But this year, the garden isn't even  tilled... And I don't think it will be within the next two weeks. It is still too wet to work. The tractor would simply compact the soil and make it impossible for any plants to grow through. And this is why today's work was so imperative: without transplanting, these plants wouldn't last two more weeks in the seed room. 

So this afternoon, I put all my tomatillos into larger pots. Last year we had 4 tomatillo plants. Today, I transplanted 30 plants, evenly divided between purple and green fruit. I also transplanted about thirty pepper plants that seemed to be struggling in the little plastic cells they were started in. I can't blame them, and hope they grow in their new, roomier homes. I also transplanted about 70 tomato plants. Almost all of the plants I transplanted seemed healthy, and in better shape than plants I grew from seed and successfully planted in the garden the last two years. So, although I am sore, and honestly a little overwhelmed, I feel like we are on track. Once the garden is tilled and I am able to put plants in the ground, things should go like gangbusters! 

I am now more than out of room in the seed room. Not only is all the space beneath the fluorescent  lights taken, but the floor around the set up is now completely packed with plants. And there are more plants in need of transplanting... I may have to start hardening off plants this week, even before the garden is remotely ready for planting. 

It seems that every year the weather, or the plants, provide a new learning experience. Who knew we would get so much rain in April and May that the ground is unworkable. Who knew that I finally got my timing right this year. I planted seeds in enough time for the plants to be viable at the last average frost date (although even that may be off...if it frosts tonight, it would be three days after our general last frost date). And though my tomatillos, peppers, cabbage, and tomatoes are doing great, the eggplants are not. I started about 50 eggplant seeds 12 weeks ago. Right now I have about a dozen plants growing, but they are not very large... And today, I moved almost 40 soil blocks with eggplant seeds that didn't germinate into my leftover soil bucket. I gave up on all those plants, because even now, if they were to germinate this week, they would still be too small to be viable int he garden in June. It was sad, and I realize that I may have to buy eggplant plants if I want eggplant this year. It just goes to show you never really know what will happen with your seeds...

Today's picture are my newly-transplanted tomatillo plants waiting watering, and then one group of tomato plants right after being transplanted. I am growing two varieties of tomatillo and today I transplanted five kinds of tomatoes (Taxi - yellow, Cherry Blend, Principe Borghese, Wapsipnicon Peach, and Puple Calabash). 

I will continue to hope for the garden to dry out enough for it to be tilled. In the meantime, you will find me in the seed room, tending to summer even as this wet spring continues on.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Why I Garden

When I was a boy, my Grandpa had a huge garden in his suburban backyard every year. I remember corn, beans, tomatoes and potatoes growing in the plot that occupied what seemed like a quarter of the yard. I remember him having me climb the fruit tree (was it pear or peach or plum?) in that backyard and passing down the ripe fruit that he then gently put in the large wicker basket. On special days (probably when the afternoon thunderstorms rolled through, eliminating the possibility of any further work outside), I got to help Nana deal with that morning's harvest. She canned, froze, and pickled things from his garden. She made pies and Grandpa made ice cream, and we snacked on fruit and vegetables that had just been picked.

My family didn't always have a garden, but I remember that for a few years before my Dad built the big shed, we had a garden. All I remember from that garden is the corn, beans, squash, and radishes. I am sure we grew cucumber and lettuce and tomatoes and peppers, but maybe that is just my adult bias (I can't imagine a vegetable garden without those things!) I recall crawling between the stalks of corn, weeding, and bringing in armfuls of beans that my sister and I would then string while sitting on the back porch, throwing the ends to the dogs.

By the time I was in high school, the only gardens I knew were flower gardens in everyone's yards. I grew up in Denver, and by the 1980's xeriscapes were common. Although every yard had a lawn, people were encouraged to plant native plants to save on water consumption. By this time, home-grown produce was a special treat, but the bulk of our produce was purchased at King Soopers and was generally frozen. When I went to college, in Nebraska, I was amazed at all the farmland. Endless miles of milo, soybeans, and wheat. There were long miles along I-80 that stank of pigs and cows. Or at least their feces. At times, I viewed the drive from Denver to Hastings as nothing but seven hours of industrial waste. And none of it looked edible.

In Chicago, in the early 1990's, I worked at a great cafe that is still around, Uncommon Ground. The cafe had a fairly set menu, but soups and quiches revolved around fresh produce the owner would bring from the farmers' markets in Western Michigan and northern Indiana. It was there I really learned how to cook with fresh produce, and the absolute joy of eating in season. The fresh taste and variety of the produce got me hooked. I learned how to use fresh herbs. I finally understood that a tomato from the store in December is nothing like an August tomato.

Ever since then, I have grown plants. Maybe it was only a basil plant on my kitchen window sill. Maybe it was berries in our dark Chicago backyard. Tomatoes on the front porch in Denver. A yard full of veggies in the Baker District of Denver, and all the meals shared with friends in that wonderful backyard in the ghetto!

I haven't bought a tomato at a grocery store in years. It just isn't worth the money. If they're not in season, I buy canned. Luckily, this year, we didn't even have to buy many cans, as we only recently ran out of tomatoes I canned last summer and fall. In the freezer, we still have tomatoes, ready for a soup or sauce. We are still eating frozen peppers from last year's garden. Ground, dried peppers as spice. Pickled peppers on sandwiches. I know the quality of much of the produce I eat. I know there is nothing genetically-modified about it. And the taste is unbeatable.

There is no going back. In fact, now that we grow a lot of the vegetables (and a good portion of fruit) we eat, our goal is to grow more. Eventually we would like chickens and goats. Maybe sheep and pigs. Already much of our meat was raised and slaughtered locally. I want my food to be as pure as possible. Grown locally, without pesticides and without chemicals. I know I can't meet this goal perfectly. But I will do what I can. It is more work. Today, on a cool and rainy day, I spent a few hours in my seed room. Transplanting cabbages. Starting some late-arriving peppers (Purple Jalapeño, something I know I couldn't find anywhere else) and basil. Already, my garden takes up at least an hour a day, with watering in the morning and evening. And weeding the raised beds where the peas are growing among spinach and lettuce and radishes. And come fall, when the harvest is in full gear, it can be exhausting trying to pick and then process all of that produce. On those days I remind myself how amazing this work is going to taste on a snowy January day, when our dinner tastes as fresh as it would in September.

This is why I garden. It is food for my body, work for my body. It is meals shared with friends. It is a continuing fight against corporate ownership of our food. It is knowing the food I eat and serve to my friends is truly healthy, and not laden with chemicals, plastics, and poisons. It is feeling part of the local food movement. Every time I work in the garden, I learn something new. It is becoming aware of the affects that weather, climate, soil, and animals have on our food. It is the memory of the gardens of my childhood.

The pictures below: 1.) Purple Jalapeño seeds in soil blocks. I didn't cover them as I read that exposure to light will speed germination. 2.) A newly-transplanted cabbage plant. 3.) A flat of tomatoes in soil blocks, climbing every day!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Herb Fest

Yesterday we went to the annual festival put on by local gardening and horticultural groups in Mattoon, the neighboring town to Charleston. It's called Herb Fest. Being from Colorado, the word "herb" still has a different primary meaning than culinary plants, but beyond semantics, the festival is a highlight of spring. The day was cool and rain was falling, but the turnout seemed robust. I was looking for a few plants I have been unable to grow successfully from seed: thyme and oregano. The nice Amish folks we bought sage and rosemary from two years ago were there, and we decided to pick out four different plants for the herb garden. I picked up a nice variety of thyme called "Porlock". It had the thymiest scent to its healthy leaves. We picked up a Lady lavender plant... I haven't been able to grow lavender from seed either. I was thinking about buying another oregano, but they didn't really have any cool varieties, so Rich suggested we try two new herbs. He picked out patchouli and I picked out lemon verbena. I didn't know patchouli was even a plant. The one we picked out looks a little rough-for-the-wear (but I think it will come through just fine)... the plant is about four inches tall, with quarter-inch diameter leaves that are dark green and rough to the touch. And rubbing the leaves definitely releases the unmistakeable scent of patchouli. I am thinking that it will add amazing scent to our homemade bath salts. The lemon verbena smells just awesome...so lemony and yet so green. I will use it for both cooking and for other things (infusing alcohol and adding it bath salts, for starters) as well. Rich had said we'd spend just ten dollars, and these plants were $2.50 each, so we were good. On our way back to the car, we passed the Master Gardener's stall where we bought the really cool Rattlesnake Master plant we have growing outside our kitchen window. They had a huge selection of perennials and we were drawn to these cool-looking Torch Lilies. We bought two. I was glad we bought a couple of new plants, as that's the main reason I like to go to Herb Fest. On the way out, I did see some really cool oreganos (one was an almost sea-foam light green color), but we had already spent more money than we had meant to... I am looking forward to planting these six new plants and hopefully watching them thrive!
Below are pictures of the Torch Lilies, Lemon Verbena, then Patchouli.

Rain, rain, rain

It rained all day today. Over the past few weeks, we have had a lot of rain, with today's half-inch, the total for April is 8.5 inches. Things are wet, soggy, and very, very green. The plum and early apple trees turned their blossoms out this morning. In the raised beds, the peas are several inches tall and looking hopeful. (Last year, after I planted 500 pea seeds, I was left with zero pea plants due to the early heat.) This year, we haven't had much heat. We woke to frost a few times this week. Nothing major...but winter has definitely been hanging around longer than it did last year. The garden still isn't tilled. I am not sure when that will happen... I can't imagine a tractor being able to make the rounds without getting stuck in the muck. So we wait to get busy outside.

But inside, things are growing very well in the seed room. Not everything has germinated yet, but every morning when I water, I am greeted by new plants unfurling their leaves under the lights. There is a tomato forest (see the picture below), and the second picture is of the gorgeous little salad burnett plants. I just love the shape of their leaves. The third picture is a close-up of some of the tomatillo plants (purple and green!). I love the fuzzy stems on the tomatoes and tomatillos... Today's last picture is of some of the lettuce I have growing in the seed room... it is definitely looking like leaf lettuce to me. Every time I water it, I imagine pouring olive oil and balsamic vinegar on it, tossing it with some salt and pepper, and eating it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Brussels Sprouts

Well it seems I can't grow Brussels Sprouts. Granted, my seeds were one and two years old, but 100% of them germinated, and they all got more than two leaves. And then they all just wilted and died. Damping off, I believe. The second year in a row that this has happened. The first year I tried to grow Brussels Sprouts, I actually got them large enough to transplant them into the ground, where they were killed by cutworms. But at this point, I feel that these are a variety of plant that it is just impossible to grow.

These types of setbacks I am becoming used to the more I farm.

That said, my 2013 farm is doing alright so far. Last week when I planted out in my raised beds, I had been under the impression that we would be getting a few days of rain over the course of the week. None of that rain fell. But, knowing those seeds had just been planted and hopefully uneaten by birds, rabbits, cats, or dogs, would chill out, waiting for the rain. It is now predicted that up to 3" of rain will fall this week, in warm weather thunderstorms... if that comes to pass, those seeds should be pushing out of the ground by this time next week.

Life in the seed room, Brussels Sprouts not withstanding, is going well. I kept the heat off while I was out of town, and our friend kept the seedlings and the soil blocks watered. But not too much grew. A few of the eggplants have now pushed out. Some of the tomatoes and peppers have grown third and fourth leaves. The cabbages are starting to look like cabbages, and the lettuce and mesclun are looking fantastic. And today I started four more flats of seeds... peppers, tomatoes, ground cherries, hollyhocks, lovage, salad burnet, and more tomatillos. Over 264 plants started in the seed room today, along with about 64 giant parsley plants I direct-seeded in a new plot next to the herb garden. I am expanding the size of the garden once more this year. If all goes well, you all will be able to enjoy this garden this year.

As I write, the window in the living room is open, and the southerly breeze has just turned cool... we are supposed to get several days of periodic thunderstorms. Today was over 70 degrees, and after a morning and afternoon doing garden work, Rich & I went to our friends, Sam & Kate's, for the season's first BBQ and bags... it was heavenly.

Below, pictures of a few of the seedlings (cabbages, lettuce) taken on Tuesday... Happy Spring, and it looks like I will be buying my Brussels Sprouts once more.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring under Snow

Last Saturday was gorgeous: sunny with temperatures in the upper 50's. I took the opportunity to get out in the garden and get it in shape for the upcoming season. I pulled out the cages, trellises and stakes I used last year. I piled up and composted the zinnia and okra stalks, and pulled up and composted the tomato, pepper, and eggplant skeletons. And I dug up and composted the rotting cabbage leaves. (A few days later I discovered that we have a very large groundhog living in the barn, and feasting on those cabbages... We're thinking of calling him Hutton Harry...) I also weeded the raised beds I never got a chance to deal with last summer, and filled them with sheep manure I got last fall. (The raised beds are in the first picture below, and the garden in the second.)

The next day we got an early spring blizzard: about twelve inches of snow fell Sunday covering everything in a heavy, drenching blanket of white. I spent a snowy snowed-in Monday building soil blocks and starting eggplants in them. Checking on the Brussels sprouts, cabbages, lettuce, basil, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants growing in the warm seed room.

This Saturday is supposed to be warm (upper 50's) and will be a perfect day for me to start some cool-weather crops in the raised beds: peas, lettuce, beets... I can not wait!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Growin' of the Green!

It's a cold and blustery St. Patrick's Day promising snow. In the seed room, it's still warm & humid and smells lovely: of soil and little plants. The Brussels Sprouts and cabbages that are up are nearing two inches tall. (See the pictures below...) Lettuces and basil are beginning to grow like gangbusters. The peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants I've planted haven't germinated yet, but I expect them any day. Looking back at last year's garden journal, it seems this spring is so far more typical: cooler and wet, so things outside are coming up slowly. Last year at this time, it had been so warm that I was already feeling weeks behind. Right now, I am feeling like I am right on track: plants growing in the seed room, the garden still untilled and dormant. Soon, though...maybe after this upcoming week of cold weather, the farm will burst alive and I will be out there, making food. I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Garden Lives On!

I know that it's been since Thanksgiving since I posted, and that I may have lost some of my readers. But it's a new year, and I've got a renewed energy for the garden. All of my seeds have been ordered, and most of them have arrived. I ordered from new seed companies this year: Southern Exposure, Botanical Interests (out of my home state of Colorado), Sustainable Mountain Agriculture (out of Berea, KY, who specialize in heirloom seeds collected from Western North Carolina and Eastern Kentucky), and Territorial Seed Co., out of Oregon. I also ordered from some of my standbys: Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek, Pinetree, and Hudson's. I can't imagine ordering from only one catalog!

A few weeks ago, I cleaned out my seed room and started lettuces, some basil, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Some of the seed is from last year, and even the year before, but already most of it is up. This past Sunday, I started seven varieties of peppers as well as my paste tomatoes. It feels so rejuvenating to be putting seeds in soil once again. Stepping into that brightly-lit room and feeling the warmth from the heater and smelling the rich earthy scent from the soil, it's like walking into spring. Especially when it's so cold and blustery outside. There are hints of spring... The grass near the house is starting to turn green and thicken up, and the daffodils and crocus and tulips have pushed their green arms above ground. Last week I was in Nashville, where the flowers were blooming and the air had that unmistakeable scent of life on it... So it's getting closer... Near as I could tell, spring is in Northern Kentucky, inching its way into Southern Illinois... Soon, soon... Perhaps the most obvious sign of spring are the birds. Every morning, I wake up to new bird calls and more feathered friends in the yard.

I've got big plans for the garden this year... Last year I harvested more produce than the year before, and that, despite the drought. (Luckily, I was able to water!) But this year, I'm going to spend some time really prepping my raised beds to grow greens, onions, potatoes, beets, and carrots. All of these struggled in the heavy clay soil in the garden proper. I am bringing in more flowers, and hopefully building a sitting/eating area in the garden itself, so folks can really enjoy the beauty of the garden. I am also hoping to market my produce once again, either at the market or through social media, or both. And Charleston is getting a second farmers' market this year: on Saturdays at the County Fairground. Hopefully there will be enough farmers selling to keep it vibrant.

Well, thanks for reading, and I hope you will join me on this year's gardening adventure at Three Persimmons Farm!