Archives

August Garden Tour

The garden is in full swing and I’m barely keeping ahead of it, especially the wax beans.  The weather has been in the 90sF and 90%+ humidity for days on end.  It is hard for me to work outside in such hot weather due to breathing difficulties with asthma.  The weeds keep right on growing.  After the thunderstorms finish tonight, we are supposed to have at least three days of temps in the 70s-low 80s and much lower humidity.  I’m so looking forward to that!  Hope to get my garden in shape then.

I’ve just managed to stay ahead of the wax string beans.  So far I’ve canned 6 pints with 6 more to do and another big bag to pick tomorrow.  Beans love hot, humid weather.  The only problem is they can’t be harvested if they are wet.  It causes the beans to get rusty marks on them.  Timing bean harvesting between thunderstorms can be tricky.

I like to place my rows of plantings close enough together so that when they are mature they fill the whole area, choking out weeds.  The plants shade the soil and retain moisture without the need to apply mulch.  Above we see pumpkins on the left, beans in the middle and tomatoes on the right.  There are a few weeds in the tomatoes.  I’ll get rid of those this weekend.

The tomatoes have formed a jungle and are producing more fruit than I can eat.  Soon I will be freezing tomatoes for winter soups.  Fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes right from the garden are so much better than the store-bought variety.  Store tomatoes should be sold under a different name, like cardboard tomatoes.

The indian corn started out slowly this year due to a month of drought in June.  The lack of rain was also hard on the grass.  The hay harvest is poor.  The corn looks better.  Rain, mostly from thunderstorms, has help the plants reach for the sky.  They are about six feet tall and busy tasseling and making ears.  I plant pumpkins as companions for the corn.  The vines run around the stalks where they have plenty of space to spread out.  The large squash leaves shade the ground around the corn, discouraging weeds and helping conserve moisture.  Sunflowers like to grow with the pumpkins as well.

In June I went to a clearance sale at a local greenhouse and saved the last two pots of straight-neck summer squash.  They were very unimpressive, root-bound, yellowed pitiful plants.  I figured, give’em a chance and stuck them in where the carrots failed due to the drought.  In no time they had taken over that spot and are now flexing their leaves over my bed of sweet basil.

From struggling seedlings, the plants have grown into squash making machines.  I pick the squash when it’s very small, about the length of my middle finger, to keep ahead of production.  Small squash are tender and delicious.  Any that get away to grow to monster proportions are fed to the chickens.  They love garden extras, especially squash and tomatoes.

Last year I planted sweet basil near the edge of the garden, right beside the fence.  Something ate all my plants and I never got any basil.  This year I made a bed near the center of the garden.  The basil is growing unmolested and I have harvested a bunch already to dry.  The fresh leaves are also yummy tossed in a salad with tomatoes and summer squash.  The new growth is pinched back by about 6″ or so to encourage branching and prevent the plants from going to flower.  I make bundles using four spears of basil then hang them upside down in a dark, airy room to dry.

This year I again planted the crazy tendril peas.  I didn’t give them any support since they are supposed to hold themselves up with the luxuriant over-growth of tendrils.  It works pretty well.  They do lean over a bit, providing perfect cover for a mouse who is stealing pods and eating my peas before I can pick them.  I guess there’s plenty for everyone.  I’m just worried the rodent will move on to the tomatoes when the peas are gone.  Once I harvest the peas, I’m going to replant carrots in that spot and hope for a fall crop.

By planting sweet peppers in the shade thrown by the corn, the plants get protection from strong sun and the extra moisture they need to perform well.  There will be lots of nice peppers this fall if all goes right.  Last time I got a good pepper harvest, I roasted the excess on the grill, sliced and froze them.  When I needed pepper for topping pizza or tossing in pasta, I just chopped some off the frozen block.  That worked very well, so I plan to do it again this year.

When I was a kid, I did not like chard.  Now I love it!  The drought was tough on chard, but I got several plants that I transplanted to fill out a small row.  They seem to be having a competition to see who can produce the largest leaves.  I particularly like rainbow chard, such a pretty mix of colors when it grows.  

Just for fun and a splash of brightness in the veggie patch, I always grow some flowers.  This year bachelor buttons volunteered from seed dropped last year.  The mass of plants has to be tied up to prevent it flopping into the path and all over the neighboring plants.  These make lovely cut flower bouquets for the table that last over a week.

The zinnias have just started to bloom.  I almost got a picture of a hummingbird on the big red zinnia flower, but I wasn’t quite quick enough.  Hummingbirds also like the sunflowers.  Sometimes when I stand in the garden, the aerial hummingbird battles going on around me make me duck.  The tiny birds are very territorial and don’t like sharing even when there are plenty of flowers to go around.

Female ruby-throated hummingbird on the sunflowers, taken in 2017

This year I planted nasturtiums in the garden for the first time. Some didn’t do well, I suspect the drought got them.  A few have thrived and are producing orange, yellow and red flowers. So pretty. The flowers are supposed to be edible, but I probably will leave them in the garden rather than toss them on a salad.

Now we’ve reached the end of the garden tour.  Time to can some beans!

 

 

Advertisements

Painted Lady Butterfly

It seems to be a good year at the farm for butterflies.  Little yellow Sulphurs are everywhere.  I have seen several Monarchs.  The past few years, Monarchs were becoming rare sightings.  Perhaps the nationwide attention and emphasis by private individuals on planting milkweed has helped this species.  Another butterfly that sometimes feeds on milkweed is the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui.)  This insect has orange wings with black and white markings.  There are four eye spots on the outsides of the bottom wings.

We have a good supply of Painted Ladies this year.  Here at the farm the caterpillars feed on thistle, mallow, milkweed and aster, among other plants.  They are not such specialized feeders as the Monarch, perhaps helping their numbers to stay more plentiful.  The Painted Lady larva need to finish munching on the fall asters soon, turn into butterflies and head south.  The very mild weather we have been experiencing the past week, with near-record warmth, will not continue.  The butterflies migrate all the way to Mexico to over-winter.  They need to get started before the frosts come to Maine.

Already our tree leaves are turning color and beginning to drop.  There has been no frost yet, but the decreasing light has triggered the trees’ autumn show.  As long as the heat continues, the zinnas will bloom in abundance in my vegetable garden.  When frosts hits, they die immediately.  Painted Lady butterflies seem particularly fond of zinna nectar.  I often find several of these insects on the flowers at one time.

Sunday the temperatures soared to near 90F, yesterday we hit 86F at the farm and today promises more of the same.  This is idyllic weather for the two week period that comprises the life span of the adult Painted Lady butterfly.  As they begin their trip south, the insects will continue to feed, mate, lay eggs and die.  The progeny will progress toward warm Mexican winter homes, sustaining the Painted Lady population for another year.

Garden End of July

This spring was a rough start for my garden.  Right after I planted we had over a week of rain.  Many of the seeds must have just rotted in the ground.  I replanted the beans when only three sprouted and the second time got better results.  Slugs ate every one of my lettuce sprouts during the rain and something will not leave my basil alone.  Not sure if I will get any basil!

The mystery peas are doing the best of all the garden veggies.  The indian corn is also fairly happy with the frequent rain and hot days.  Lia is about 46″ tall.  The corn is well over her head and not tasseling yet.  Lia has discovered the joy of eating raw peas right off the vine.  She is very proud of the peas she helped plant.

Even the flowers I sowed in the garden did poorly this year.  I have a few zinnias and bachelor buttons, but not as good as previous years.  The rain was really hard on the seeds.  Beets and carrots suffered similarly.  The tomatoes are producing a few yummy fruits and the pumpkins that managed to sprout are coming along well.  The volunteers are all the sunflowers we have this year.  Not a single seed came up and I planted nearly 20.  Depressing.  Yet, the weeds always do so well.  Here are my first Early Girl tomatoes.

On a bright note, I saw a monarch butterfly on the 27th in the apple orchard when I was mowing.  Perhaps people’s efforts to plant milkweed are paying off.  This seems to be a good butterfly year, there are many varieties present in the gardens and on wild flowers.

Mystery of the Peas Solved

A few weeks ago I blogged about planting peas from a 5 lb bag of organic whole dried green peas that I purchased at the health food store last winter.  I bought them to sprout for salad but didn’t really like the flavor of the sprouts.  I’ve been rehydrating them and eating them like raw peas, which isn’t too bad.  I also made mushy peas with them and that was good.  So I decided to put some in the garden and see how the unknown, mystery peas developed.

Well, I’m amazed!  These are the strangest peas ever!  They started out as normal sprouts, but then began sending out extraordinary amounts of tendrils.  They didn’t make any leaves at all until they were almost a foot tall!  Just huge amounts of tendrils.  The poor things looked so desperate for something to grab on to that I ran strings on poles.  They grappled on and kept reaching for the sun.  In late June, these crazy peas started to bloom.  They had lovely creamy-white flowers in profusion.  Soon baby pea pods formed.  Still the plants climbed and produced profusions of tendrils.  I opened a couple half-ripe pods yesterday and the peas are delicious.  The plants are covered with pods and still making flowers.

I did a little research and discovered these are a new type of pea called hypertendril (good name!)  They are a natural hybrid developed from a mutation called parsley peas.  The benefits of the hypertendril mutation are, among others, the peas don’t require trellis support, they hold each other up, and the lack of leaves increases airflow to prevent mildew and other diseases.  They are also heavy producers and easy to harvest.  What a surprise for me!  I had never heard of hypertendril peas.

This variety is pretty amazing.  The minor support from the stakes and strings has made a wall of peas with pods hanging on both sides that are very easy to see and pick.  But as a sprout pea, hypertenrils are certainly not the right choice since they have hardly any leaves.  I serendipitously stumbled onto this type of pea and am glad of it.  There is a variety of hypertendril called magnolia blossom that has gorgeous pink and purple flowers.  Next year I’m going to try them in the garden.

Asticou Azalea Garden

g6

A tiny island of serenity is set amidst the bustle of Northeast Harbor on Mt. Desert, home of Acadia National Park in Maine.  While it is known and loved for the beauty and variety of its blooming rhododendrons, Asticou Garden is a refuge any time of the year.  During the depths of January ice, my thoughts escape to a July garden visit.g10

Built in 1956 and styled after a Japanese stroll garden, the Asticou features paths meandering through shade and sun, hill and pond, flower bed and lawn.  Tiny shrines nestle in woodland or water settings, stone paeans to the beauty of nature.g5g8g1g3g2a
Many of the rhododendrons and azaleas are quite old, having been transplanted from an estate garden in 1956. The shade loving shrubs and small trees shelter beneath towering pines. Red Japanese maples splash color, as do late blooming rhododendrons.g9

Tranquility may be achieved during contemplation of the sand garden, designed to invoke rocks among the ripples of a lake.  The pure white sand is carefully tended.g4

Birds sing and flit about the branches.  Ducks and insects lead their busy lives along the waterways.  Sounds of the outside world mute to be replaced by warm breezes sighing through pine boughs, cricket song or silence.  Visitors tread quietly here, speaking in whispers.g7

g11A bounty of bloom, the garden remains the same, yet ever changing, year after year.  Sanctuary for a body in the height of midsummer, or a mind in the gray grip of winter’s freeze, Asticou continues as a gem of the coast of Maine.

 

First Snow and First Eggs

b4

Time to finish cleaning up the garden!

We awoke today to the first measurable snow of the season, about 1/2 inch of wet accumulation.  The white won’t last long.  The next few days will have temperatures in the 40sF with rain.  It’s pretty to see, dusting the trees, carpeting the lawns.  A warning of what is to come.

b3

Winter dusts the harvest decorations

b2

Snow never stops Otto from enjoying his favorite ball

The first snow of the winter is later than last year by about three weeks.  We have enjoyed a very warm autumn.  The ground has not frozen yet.  I am still harvesting the late apples and they are in good, hard condition.  I also collected my hazelnut crop, a total of eighteen nuts! b6

Next year should bring a better harvest.  Only the largest hazelnut bush produced nuts.  Hazelnuts require good cross pollination.  There are two other hazelnuts struggling to produce flower catkins.  They should provide enough to fertilize my largest plant next spring, as long as the deer don’t chew on them again this winter.  I trimmed my husband’s hair last night and collected the clippings.  Legend holds that hanging little cloth bags of human hair in the branches of trees will stop the deer from eating the twigs.  I’m giving it a try.b1

The pullets hatched in May and June have just started laying.  There are a total of thirteen hens.  Every morning the lights in their pen come on around four.  This gives them enough supplemental light to stimulate laying during the dark, dreary days of late fall and early winter.  We are getting an average of eight eggs per day.

b5The shell color on the eggs being produced by these young Ameraucana hens is lovely.   My latest flock is all silver or black plumage color.  I believe the blacks produce the deepest blue shade on their eggshells.  I breed specifically for the bluest shell color and things seem to be heading in the right direction!

 

Common Ground Fair

dsc08710

On the train to the Fair!

Every year for the last forty years the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc. (MOFGA) has held the Common Ground Country Fair.  It occurs on the third weekend after Labor Day in Unity, Maine. I have attended several times, most recently with my daughter and two grandchildren.

This fair attracts over 20,000 people per day on its three-day, long weekend run.  The place can get quite crowded, especially the food areas at lunchtime.  Organic growers from all over the state attend to compete, display and sell their produce, livestock and wares.DSC08724.JPG

Compared to most fairs, the Common Ground is more like a very old-time agricultural fair.  There are no loud rides, carnies, sideshows, horse races, professional tractor or horse pulling competitions and NO cotton candy (sigh.)  The trash is guarded by garbage police and separated into cans for regular waste, composting and recycling.  There is no litter.

Arriving at the fair is an adventure in itself, as you may take an old-fashioned train with brightly painted cars to reach the fairground.  The train runs regularly all day, shuttling people back and forth from parking areas to the fair.  Even with the train service, the road leading to the fair is backed up for miles in traffic jams.  The crowd seems to take the highway authorities by surprise every year, leading to very slow going if you try to travel anywhere near the fair.dsc08713

You can find wonderful displays of organically grown vegetables and fruit in the competition barn, several sheds of draft horses, oxen, dairy cattle and goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and alpacas.  The draft animals do compete in amateur pulling contests.  One barn is devoted to rabbits and another to poultry.  The fiber people have a tent full of their produce arrayed for the salivating droves of spinners and weavers moving through.  There is always a woman demonstrating the use of a spinning wheel by taking the fiber directly from an angora rabbit resting in her lap.DSC08736.JPG

Other large sales tents house arts and crafts with basket weavers, jewelers, wood, glass, stone and metal workers, paper making and hand-operated printing presses, cloth and clothing making, beading, leather work, etc, etc.  Several tents are dedicated to fresh produce and seeds, and several more to representatives from various political factions, movements and technology companies important to organic farmers.  A few tents are set aside for daily talks put on by authorities on the many facets of organic living and farming.  There is even a display of working equipment operated with direct solar power to cook food.dsc08747

The aspects that stand out most for me are the general quiet atmosphere, the wide, grassy spaces that are available for people to use, and the sorts of people who attend.  Dozens of fair-goers sprawl on lawns and in open areas, eating, drinking, talking, listening to speakers and even playing musical instruments and singing.  Some of these people are barefoot or clothed in brightly colored wraps of cloth and other bohemian outfits and hairstyles.  Amish people mingle with the crowd, denizens of the large Amish community that has sprung up around the Unity area in the last decade or so.DSC08735.JPG

The grounds are furnished with several permanent gardens to display organic farming methods.  You can walk through small fields of corn, squash, beans, root vegetables, cruciferous and leaf crops and herb and flower gardens.  On one side of the fairgrounds is a large amphitheater for live music and performances with high earthen sides for seating.  Dozens of children grab pieces of discarded cardboard boxes from vendors and slide down the steep slopes.dsc08741

The attractions are eclectic.  One may take a walk through a quiet forest into a glade set aside for poetry reading by Maine’s poet laureate.  Farther into the woods, children who are members of a local wilderness group display their resourcefulness with outdoor skills, camping and fire-starting for any to watch.  Near the amphitheater is an old-fashioned strength competition using a heavy hammer to try and ring the bell at the top of a pole.

Unusual foods are vended.  Offerings such as lamb, falafal, curries, tofu just-about-anything-you-can-imagine, vegetarian foods, whole wheat pizza, teas, hot cider, pie cones, and fresh seafood bring lines of diners.  Not the usual fair fare!  There is a bow to regular American tastes with stands serving hamburgers and fries, popcorn, Italian sausage and ice cream.  The longest line was at the fresh roast coffee vendor’s stand.

Many love the sheep dog demonstrations.  Several dogs perform their tasks using a small flock of sheep and even a gaggle of geese, to the delight of a large audience.  The children are drawn to the livestock pens because most farms in attendance allow people to talk to and pet the animals.dsc08730dsc08725

The young ones also have a large area all to themselves filled with delightful activities.  Twice a day any child may don a costume and participate in the Children’s Parade around the fairgrounds.  In addition to children, the parade features Morris dancers, stilt-walkers and mummers wearing large papier-mache animal head masks.dsc08718

The day always flies by with so much to see and do.  Soon it is time to rush and catch the train for the ride back to the car.  With any luck the shuttle is running close to schedule.  Everyone leaves tired but happy.  This year’s fair hosted over 60,000 visitors in one long weekend.  I hope this extravaganza of folk and country fun continues for many years to come.