This lovely Sunday morning, I am sitting outside the camper, sipping a hot coffee, and watching the hummingbirds feed as the sun rises. And chasing the nasty old hen out of my watermelons–again! Mike had taken their pen down a few weeks ago to move it, and it didn’t get set up again, so they are free-ranging. Which wasn’t a problem until my veggies started growing. EIGHT acres to roam, and they simply cannot stay out of my plants! We have one rooster and four hens now. They are 4 year-old, egg-pecking, useless eaters. But they have free-ranged most of this time, and outlived all our other chickens. So they’ve earned a reprieve, and will live out their days scratching and dust-bathing.
Interesting discovery: Our little Rat Terriers are awesome chicken dogs. If they hear us yelling at the chickens, they will come tearing over and chase the chickens out. They look and sound fearsome, but they never touch the birds! And as soon as the chickens are safely away from our plants, we call the dogs back and they stop chasing. It’s especially cool when you consider Rat Terriers are bred with a ridiculous prey drive.
Greenhouse Victories/Never-Ending Learning Curve
After last year’s tomato debacle in the greenhouse (WAY too hot: Huge green plants with minimal, tiny tomatoes), we did some brainstorming on how to avoid a repeat. The first thing was to get the shade cloth up BEFORE the oppressive Missouri heat began. The cloth I have is actually too small for our greenhouse, but it’s what we have and much better than nothing. It’s amazing how much heat that thing keeps out.
The next thing was to move our high-powered fan from inside the greenhouse, where it was simply blowing hot air around. I suggested installing the fan in the back wall. The back end of the greenhouse is shaded by a big maple tree nearly all day, and the air that the fan brings in is nice and cool. Success! Yesterday afternoon it was actually COOLER in the greenhouse than outside in the sun! We are going to install one more smaller fan in the front to suck out the hot air, and build a screen door for the front.
But my tomatoes! Even though they not being subjected to the inferno-like heat of last year, they just don’t seem happy in there. They are doing much better than last year: I have quite a few tomatoes and it looks like they are going to be decent sized. But the leaves are all thick and kind of misshapen, and they’re just growing kind of funky. Whereas the tomatoes we’re growing outside are thriving. So we’ve decided to grow all our tomatoes outside next year.
My vines, on the other hand, are going nuts! The pic is some of my cantaloupes twining around an old broken lawn chair. I have paracord hanging down from the cattle panels so I can grow somewhat vertically.
Last year I put too many vines in one bed (I have with this bed also-a bad habit of mine!) and was overrun with vegetation. This year I have one cucumber, one butternut, and one mystery vine, each in their own bed.
So the plan for next year (ALWAYS learning!) is to make a few inexpensive modifications to the cattle panel apparatus in order to fashion a trellis. By growing straight up, I will be able to maximize the number of plants I can accommodate. I will have incredible air circulation to prevent disease, and the plants will not be lying on the ground inviting disease and insects.
That first picture is a nest I found while walking yesterday. I believe one of our dogs dug it up. Two of the eggs were dented but unbroken, and the rest were torn up. Snakes? Turtles? I honestly don’t know
I am always amazed at how different this property is every time I walk it! The peach tree I discovered this Spring is loaded with fruit. We are not really doing anything with the tree, so I expect the insects will beat us to most of it. Hoping to get enough to do a batch of peach jam with Libby. Same with the ancient pear tree. One section of it is laden with little red pears, but the rest of the tree has nothing. I would love to make a batch of pear sauce or dehydrate them for snacks.
The amount of food this property provides us is incredible. The elderberries are in full flower. Day lilies are getting ready to pop. Plantain, violets, and clover all over. My blackberry patch is in full bloom. Last year, I got a ridiculous amount of blackberries. We haven’t done the work of digging, but there are several patches of Jerusalem Artichokes for the taking. There is Queen Anne’s Lace and cattails. And medicinal herbs all over the place. Last year I made a tincture from Prickly Lettuce. I harvested the top 12″ of the plant just before it flowered on a sunny day, chopped it up and put into a quart mason jar, and filled it with vodka. I kept it on the shelf for about six weeks, shaking the jar occasionally and then strained it.
We also have mimosa trees, which produce beautiful pink fluffy unusual flowers. Herman has made a tincture from the flowers and a tincture from the bark. In Chinese medicine, the mimosa is known as the “happy get-together flower.” It is also known as the “herb of happiness.”
Oh, and the honeysuckles! They are in full flower right now, and the aroma is simply intoxicating! Every time I happened upon a patch of it, I would stop, stick my face into the flowers and inhale deeply. I know they’re invasive, but I just don’t care. They are welcome here.
We have also harvested Hen of the Woods mushrooms. Simply incredible sautéed in butter.
What’s Next for the Homestead?
My career (dialysis nurse) requires call, and things are usually feast or famine as far as how many hours I get during any given pay period. This last one was definitely “feast.” I have done nothing but work and sleep for two weeks (120.45 hours!), but the resulting epic paycheck will allow us to get the disk harrow that we need to put food into the ground. Too late for the Spring planting, but there will be plenty of time to get a Fall crop in. The ground here is clay and rocks and pretty crappy, and we expect it will take a few years of vigorous soil amending before it will produce well, but something growing is better than nothing growing!
I will be starting some more cruciferous veggie seeds (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi) to place into the new garden patch. I have some nice row covers, which will help protect the plants as the temps drop, and I look forward to harvesting some Brussels sprouts for our 3rd annual “Thanksgiving in the Greenhouse” in November!