Monday, October 24, 2011

The Light at the Center of the Tunnel

It is so wonderful to be greeted with this room of glowing green every morning when I open up the high tunnel.  Here  it is, just 42 days after planting the seeds.
In the southwest bed I have two rows each of bull's blood beets and golden beets.  This is one of two beds I have not  yet completed thinning, weeding and mulching. Also, it is next to the side of the greenhouse that I roll up on warm days and yesterday a hen discovered her way in and helped herself to a bunch of the red beet greens.  Note: erect fencing before opening up the greenhouse again!
A bed each of the biondi di lyon chard and the rainbow chard are looking great!  I mulched between the rows with black mulch that touted its ability to conserve 30% more water and because I theorized perhaps the black color would absorb more heat during the day, keeping the plants warmer at night.
We are  now liberally harvesting spinach -- I hope there is still some for the winter Farmers Market which begins in 2 two weekends!
Scallions and baby leeks, on the other hand, still have a long way to go.
Reading up on the broccoli raab this morning, I think it may be time to start harvesting the greens.  Don't want them to get too big and become bitter.
The Asian greens also look nearly ready to harvest to me, but it is my first time growing  broccoli raab, Asian greens,  or claytonia, so I am a bit unsure when/what to do with them.
Carrots are still tiny.
Healthy-looking Italian parsley
and curly parsley, nestled up to the pansies.
I am having wonderful beginner's luck with this high tunnel.

Friday, October 21, 2011


A hard frost last night means the official end of the gardening season.  Secretly, I have been sort of eagerly anticipating it so I could finally give up on those darn tomatoes.
I hate to lose the brilliant marigolds though, which have made the garden look so appealing for so long.
I'll harvest the last beets today. Maybe roast some chicken, squash and beets for dinner.
The amazing chard will probably not be phased by the frost.  I have been harvesting a big armload of chard leaves every day for the very appreciative cows.
The grass had spiky shards of frost.
It's nice to have a few weeds for frost photos.
There are a few short sunflowers (just a couple feet tall) that Bethany planted with the fall sowing.  They haven't quite bloomed yet, but at least this one, thanks to its cozy muff, looks to have survived the frost.
I was overjoyed that the frost only settled in the low area, the garden, and the plantings by the house seemed mostly escaped freezing.  My sisters are arriving tonight from Arizona and Montana (woohoo!) and I am happy that they will be greeted by the morning glories blooming on the front gate.

Leaf Patrol

Our yard gets very deep in leaves in the fall.  Deep enough for a child to shuffle through knee-deep, deep enough to lose a chicken in, and too deep to leave them to decompose naturally or they would smother the grass.  We have  discovered it is best to tackle leaf removal in stages. If you wait until all the leaves fall, it will undoubtedly snow and you will lose your opportunity.
Plus, our handy-dandy leaf sweeper  does a better job when it doesn't have to plow through too deep a layer of leaves.  Also, it fills up pretty fast, and it is more satisfying to be able to create a swath of cleanly-swept lawn behind you before you have to unload.  We bought this sweeper very used for $50 on Craigslist when we first moved here, after we realized several hours of raking could not make a noticeable impact in leaf removal. The sweeper has seen better days--it doesn't tilt to empty any longer.  To unload it I have to actually lift the big green basket out from the frame and tip it over, but it is still a heck of a lot more fun and easier on the back than raking and filling leaf bags to take to the County compost site like we did when we lived in town.  Now I create a big mulching leaf pile in the garden and a huge compost pile by the loafing shed where we can easily mix in manure and bedding.
The leaf-swept front yard. It took about three hours to sweep the front yard and the barn and granary entrance. It will stay pristine like this for a few hours before being littered by more leaves.
Many of the trees haven't even begun to give in to autumn yet, spreading out the fun for a few more weeks if the snow holds off.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Zen Den

This post is primarily for the benefit of Bethany, our summer intern. When I stated on FB that I was going to  transform my chaotic office into a Zen-like, space, she wrote "Zen-like? I'll believe that when I see it!"

She knows me too well.  Every week all summer I would proclaim that I was going to tackle my overflowing office - but it never happened.  Too much farming going on.

Last week I decided the only hope was to tear out absolutely everything, including the huge, dark built-in desk and cabinet unit, and start from scratch. The desk unit was kind of an impressive office system, but custom-designed for the former owner's technology and not suited to my needs or aesthetic. I prefer my hodge-podge thrift-store style. Now the office walls are painted a serene periwinkle hue and my entire farming library fits above my (vintage IBM) desk.
On the downside, all the stuff cleared out of my office got piled in the dining room for sorting and purging - this is just a portion of it. It took me three days to redo the office but has taken another five days so far to weed through the papers and supplies.  Some of the files, journals, correspondence, drawings and mementos go back to high school and college days and I am trying to be ruthless.  Making progress, though-- by the end of today the dining room will be back in service. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Painting on Windows (an episode off the farm)

Last week, I painted a 75 foot stretch of store-front windows for the Barlow Event Center, a new venue for local music  and fabulous food.  This evening,  my friend Barb and I went for dinner and music and I got to see the windows in action, enlivened by the lights and reflections of the night.
I took photos from outside looking in and inside looking out.

Wednesday nights is the "Search for the Northern Star" competition.   People sang their hearts out, the full spectrum from "Mac the Knife" to "All by Myself" to "I Am, I Said" to "I Love This Bar."

We topped off the evening with dessert. The berries flambe' was impressive and incredible.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


My posts have been few and far between this month; it probably seems like nothing must be going at Squash Blossom Farm  this  October.  Au contraire !  Life is crazy-busy.  Let me catch you up on a few things.

The  days have been unseasonably warm, sunny and dry - absolutely beautiful.  There isn't much left in the parched pasture for the cows, however, so they are already eating hay.
I missed both Lariat and LaFonda's heat cycles in July and August when I hoped to breed them.  Apparently the crazy hot weather in July caused a lot of cows' hormonal systems to be confused.  I had pretty much  resigned myself to not breeding them this year because I didn't want them to be heavily pregnant in the heat of the summer.

But then they both came into heat simultaneously last week and I called up the AI technician on impulse. I had already ordered the semen, which was being stored in a liquid nitrogen tank at the neighbor's dairy farm.  Eric, the AI guy, was quite impressed that LaFonda  came trotting over when I called her.  Lariat was very cooperative as well.   Erik said that both cows were at the perfect point to be bred, so both cows should settle.  The calves will have the same sires as LindyHop and Jitterbug and should be born around the 4th of July.  I have to figure out what to do with my growing herd -- 6 cows will be too many for our little farm!
On the garden front, some things are still growing strong.  Lots of various kinds of peppers are still coming, beets, chard, a few zukes,
and we are still collecting a bushel of tomatoes a day!
I have been roasting tomatoes for the freezer like crazy,
drying tomatoes like crazy,
and even freezing them whole, the way my friend Katherine suggested. I have also taken a bunch to the Community Food Response, where they were very appreciated.  I think i am done with tomatoes now --  the rest of the crop will go to the food shelf this week.
The fall crops in the high tunnel are looking lovely. Last night we harvested our first fall spinach and made a wonderful salad with hard boiled eggs from our own chickens and roasted  beets from our garden.

This morning as I was watering and weeding, it almost felt like spring. It was warm and  bright and green inside the greenhouse and I could hear the migrating robins chirruping.  A high tunnel garden would be a great remedy for Seasonal Affective Disorder!
Sadly,  few days ago we lost a keet (guinea fowl chick) that had  fallen into the  stock tank and drowned. Then, the next day, two more of the remaining three keets were missing and I could not  find a trace of them.  Sad and baffling.
The following morning, as I was gathering eggs and feeding chickens I heard peeping coming from within the wall of the coop. There is a wall of particle board with shelves mounted on it that does not go quite to the top of the wall. The keets must have tried perching on the edge and fallen behind. The wall was not easily deconstruct-able, so we attempted a number of strategies to rescue the keets.  We tried using the long-handled grabber I use to move sticks out of the way when mowing, we lowered a little platform to elevate the chicks, and finally Rog resorted to cutting a hole in the wall with the sawsall. (Then he  covered the opening so it can't happen again)
Those lucky keets were very happy to get out.  They pushed the huge turkeys aside and ate and drank ravenously. Then I herded them out to their moms in the pasture. The two hens were both hovering protectively over the remaining chick and seemed pleased to have their prodigal keets back.
The turkeys are going to be harvested tomorrow.  This is always such a sad event  - turkeys are such gentle, funny birds.  But they are getting huge and we don't want to make the mistake  of letting them get too big like we did a couple a years ago --we ended up with several 50+ -lb birds, dressed.
The toms are quite impressive, spending much of the day  displaying. They fluff out their feathers, and their faces turn vivid red and blue.  It seems like they are showing off more to each other  than to the oblivious hens.
The ducks may miss the turks. We raised them together as babies and they still hang out together.  It is so hard to believe the ducks and turkeys were tiny hatchlings just three and a half months ago.
On a completely different note, I have been hired to paint a 75-foot long mural on  a storefront. The place is the Barlow Event Center,  a new venue for live music, great food and drink, dancing, theater and other fun events in several remodeled store fronts.  I have been lucky to have perfect weather the past week to  paint the windows. Here you see the first 20 feet or so, in progress. I have about 20 feet to go and must get to work now.  I hope to finish today!