Morning Glories in the Morning Glory

The morning glories have taken full advantage of the dying corn stalks in the garden outside our living room window.

Summer Garden Bounty

We’ve been enjoying the fruits of our labors this surprisingly mild August. Our Chimney and Castle Gardens reflect their tenders’ somewhat disjointed comportment:

Corn dominates the Chimney Garden while Morning Glories and Black-Eyed Susans provide color amongst the Castle Garden’s chives, thyme, peas, and spinach.

Bumblebees have been enjoying the Sunflowers.

The red hair of the Shoepeg corn‘s ears peeking out.

And, of course, tomatoes! Both our Mortgage Lifter and Mr. Stripey tomato plants have been producing steadily for a couple of weeks now. Since the weather has been cool, we’ve been cooking them down into sauce that we then freeze.

For the first batch we started with about a half-pail (upper left) plus some loose ones (bottom). The pot was full before we used them all (leftovers upper right).

We used the pasta pot with strainer to scald the fruits to loosen the skin for removal.

The full dutch oven, ready for overnight simmering.

12 hours later, it has reduced down to a thick, intensely tomatoey ambrosia. It went another hour before I deemed it thick enough for pizza sauce.

For batches 2 and 3 we cooked in the pasta/stock pot and used more tomatoes. This pot is still simmering as I type this.

The finished product, in two convenient sizes: thin, quick-to-defrost pizza sauce (left) and a larger size for pasta sauce and stews (right).

Garden Laughing Buddha

A dollar store impulse buy. Two pics, close up and in context.



The Once and Future Tomato

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Well, not as good as otherwise! Last year was a bad one around here for tomato crops. Ours came in late; enough to eat, but we barely had enough left over to can 7 quarts, and none for frozen pizza/pasta sauce.

I am determined to have a good crop this year. Our frost date is late May, but we were getting into the 80’s in early April, so I went ahead and bought two 4-packs of plants at a local hardware/grocery store. I went with two heirloom beefsteak-style varieties: Mr. Stripey (1800’s, mid-Atlantic, low-acid, colorful red/yellow) and Mortgage Lifter (early 20th Century, West Virginia, big-n-meaty, pink/red).

The weather stayed pretty mild so at the end of April I prepped my tomato beds — two of our five 6′ x 6′ terraced beds. First, I dumped the last of the winter woodstove ashes:

Then I added several tractor bucket loads of goat shed compost on each bed, mixed, and leveled:

Then, for several weeks, the weather, especially at night, turned chilly. It is my understanding that if tomato plants are repeatedly exposed to temps below 50 their yield will suffer the entire season. So I waited. And waited. I bought some peat pots and re-potted the root-bound plants.

Finally, in late May (admittedly, our historical frost date, but weeks and weeks and weeks after prolonged spring/summer temps), I deemed the forecast suitable for transplanting; in the background you can see the goats enjoying the bolted collards that I cleaned out of the nearby beds. I planted 4 plants per 6’x 6′ bed with landscape fabric mulch:

A month later the plants are going gangbusters. I have tied a few plants with baling twine to encourage them to grow through the “tepees” I made with short sections of cattle panels:Tomato-2017-06-19



Our tomatoes did OK this year, even though we largely ignored them and they did get some sort of blight. Here are 20 lbs of mostly San Marzano Gigante 3 Tomatos ready to prep for canning.


7 quarts, ready for the pressure canner.

Addition Construction Resumes

Well, shortly after my post on Monday, trucks began arriving, delivering the ICF units that will be used for our foundation/basement walls. There are a lot of them piled up all over.

ICF forms in the back yard, as seen looking down from the upper veranda

ICF forms in the back yard, as seen looking down from the upper veranda

More ICF forms in the side yard and along the lower driveway. You can also see one of our Japanese beetle traps in the foreground, they've been fierce this year.

More ICF forms in the side yard and along the lower driveway. You can also see one of our Japanese beetle traps in the foreground, they’ve been fierce this year.

Monday they also put in the front foundation drain and tidied up the grade inside the foundation. Yesterday was rainy and therefore contractor-free. Today more gravel is being delivered for use as backfill and under the basement floor.

Plus, the windows we had ordered from Lowe’s arrived on Saturday, they have been stored in the cellar (with the large patio door under the veranda.)

Oh, and I ordered the two garage doors (one 8′ wide and one 6′ wide) today from Home Depot, they were 15% off, and the Lowe’s doors did not allow windows in the narrower 6′ door, among other things.

Side Garden Terracing

Side_Garden_TerraceWell, we finally dealt with the 3 pallets of concrete block that have been sitting the side yard since November. Early last autumn while we were getting the gardens ready for winter, we started brainstorming on a better way to user our side garden area. It was a long, sloped garden that always seemed to get away from us over the course of the growing season. We decided to break it up into a series of level lots by terracing. We looked at several more attractive options, but the cost seemed out of whack, so went went with our tried-and-true dry-stacked grey concrete blocks (aka “cinder blocks” or CMUs), capped with red concrete pavers. We (somewhat optimistically) went ahead and ordered the blocks in November, hoping that we would get our usual periods of decent weather in December and January, but that did not happen.

We just got the plots done over last weekend, and I spent Monday hauling compost from the compost into them, and moving piles of compost-to-be (aka cleaning out the goat shed.) Compost_PilesWe have a system that works well for us. In the picture to the right you see that I ended the day with two compost piles, the darker one on the left and the lighter one on the right. The lighter one is the bedding that I pushed out of the goat shed — a year’s worth of uneaten hay and goat berries. This started composting in place, giving the goats underfloor heating all winter. It has now been stirred, and the goats (and dogs) will play on it and trample it down. Next spring (or maybe in the fall, depending on conditions) I will move it over to the side for a second round of stirring and trampling — the dark pile you see is last year’s cleanout. The previous second-year pile is what I just put on the new garden plots.

This coming weekend I am going to plant the 12 tomato plants I bought a month ago and have been nursing in little pots, hardening them off. I will get them in the ground this weekend (only a few days our May 15th frost date), using my new and improved cattle panel trellising system.

Chilly Spring [Continued]

… there are some encouraging signs of spring, including these lovely daffodils in the front garden, as seen through the living room window. [Update: This picture is included in the print-on-demand book The View From Your Window.]

Summer Garden

Our front garden is mostly perennials, including rudbeckia, gloriosa daisies, asiatic lillies, and several varieties of daylillies. If anyone in the area wants to trade daylilly varieties, come on by this fall.

First Colors of Spring

Last week our long-awaited Spring arrived, with the forsythia and daffodils blazing forth in all their glory. The pastures have begun to turn green. Can the red of the tulips and the blue of the irises be far behind?

Shiitakes? Got Yer Shiitakes Right Here!

Among our other farm projects, we have been trying to get some shiitake mushrooms going. We had inoculated some white oak logs almost two years ago and had given up on them — the other day we were even discussing cutting the logs up for use as firewood. Imagine our surprise when we found these monsters sprouting all over the logs!

Shiitakes? Got Yer Shiitakes Right Here! [Continued]


Garden Spider

We were delighted today to find this beautiful garden spider amongst our tomato plants. You can see the distictive zig-zag pattern of heavy silk that adds strength to the web, helps to camouflage the similarly designed spider, and may even be of value in attracting insects to the web.

A Hard Day’s Work

Our tamworth piglets resting on their self-made pallet of straw; pigs are quite fastidious about having a relatively clean, dry place to sleep. In a week they have completely tilled up the 20×30-foot former garden that we wanted them to. Time to move them to a new area that needs tilling and reseed this one.

Spinach and arugula year-round!

In the lower left of this picture you can see Emma, one of our three cats.