Tag Archive | rural life

In the July Garden

It’s July, with lots of heat, humidity and showers, so the garden’s growing fast.  The wax beans have taken over their area and are full of blooms.  In about a week I should start harvesting beans to can for winter.  The corn did better than knee-high, it was belly button high for the Fourth of July!  The stalks are beginning to tassel.

The field pumpkins, pie and mini pumpkins are all enjoying the long, warm days.  They are rapidly spreading to fill any empty space in the garden.  I’ve seen a  few squash bugs and cucumber beetles, not as bad as some years.  Could be the plentiful rain does not agree with them.

I just finished the first thinning of the carrots, much to the rabbits’ delight.  The carrots and rainbow chard are coming along nicely.  Soon I will enjoy the first chard harvest.  Excessive rain when the chard was sprouting caused it to germinate spottily.  I will seed the empty space in the row with carrots.  They still have plenty of time to mature before fall.

The strange tendril peas are very happy growing up along the garden fence.  They are covered in blooms and will soon make the most delicious fresh peas for eating right in the garden.  The peas rarely make it up to the house to be cooked.  They are too yummy raw.

Purple peppers are starting to grow well now after a slow start.  Two were chewed off by something.  Both stems continued to live and are putting on leaves again.  Hoping to get at least one pepper each from those two damaged plants.  As you can see, I still have plenty of weeding to do!

This year the tomato patch is nice and orderly, not a jungle at all.  The plants climb up inside their cages, supported off the ground.  They already are producing lots of fruit.  I can hardly wait for my first taste of garden ripe tomato.

Now, if only the sunny weather with adequate rain continues.  And no hail storms wander our way as they did up in northern Maine a few days ago.  Quarter-sized hail hammered the area just below Moosehead Lake.  That kind of hail is devastating to gardens (and everything else in its path!)

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Big Day In The Barn

Today is a big day in the barn!  The baby barn swallows are leaving the nest.  Mom and dad swallow have been working their feathered butts off catching enough bugs to sustain themselves and five babies.  We have a lot of bugs.  They must catch tons of mosquitoes and black flies.  The birds did a good job because all the babies are grown and ready to spread their wings.  In the above photo, the nest, made of dried clay and lined with hay and chicken feathers, sits on a support just under the ceiling of our hay barn.  Two babies have flown about five feet to rest on an electric cord.  One baby is off the nest and sitting on the support.  Two babies peek from the nest.

Here are mom, dad and one baby.  The parents continuously fly in and out of the barn, bringing food for their huge babies and giving encouraging chirps to the young ones.  Probably telling them all about how to use their wings and what to watch out for.  The parents also screech and dive-bomb any threats to the nest, such as a farmer trying to do chores.

The barn swallows have nested in our barn for as long as it’s been there.  I recall climbing up to peek in their nests as a child.  Every spring we go through the exciting (and harrowing for the parents) day when the young ones leave the nest.  After this first brood is out, the pair will start another clutch of eggs.  They like to do two hatches each year.  The second one tends to run into haying season.  We have to use special care not to interfere with the birds as we bring the hay crop in the barn.

The parents will spend several days teaching the babies to fly and catch insects.  Then the babies disappear for hours on end, feeding themselves and exploring.  Mom and dad start the second hatch.  The first babies return regularly to visit and sleep around the barn area at night.  When the second hatch leaves the nest, all the barn swallows hang around for awhile.  There is a veritable swarm of birds swooping and chattering over the barnyard.  Before long the nip in the air at night signals time to fly south.  Usually by the beginning of September the barn swallows have left for lower latitudes.

This year we only have one pair nesting in the barn.  Sometimes we have two or more!  The daily scolding and swooping of the parents can really get on a person’s nerves when all they are trying to do is feed chickens and rabbits, not molest swallow nests.  But, we put up with their foolishness just to be able to share the excitement of a day like today.

First Snow and First Eggs

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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.

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Winter dusts the harvest decorations

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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!

 

Return to the Garden

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It’s been a couple weeks. let’s check in at the vegetable garden.  I have been busily weeding, training vines, picking bugs, thinning rows and hoeing up the dirt around the bases of plants.  The weather has been quite warm with many days in the mid-eighties to nineties F.  Scattered thunder showers have provided adequate water.  Everything in the garden is growing with abandon.g2

Miniature pumpkin vines in the foreground and field pumpkins in the back.  Little fruit are already setting.

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This humid, hot weather is corn’s favorite growing condition.  If you watch carefully, you can see the indian corn get taller!

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A sunflower, winter acorn squash, red sweet peppers, beets and a row of carrots along the fence.  I have harvested loads of beet greens, eaten much and given more away to friends and relatives.  I even made some pickled beets!

The peppers are very happy this year.  Last year they mostly failed.  This time I planted them closer together, about 8″ apart.  They are in the shade of the corn for much of the morning and have the beets nearby for humidity.  Peppers like moisture and partial shade.  Several plants have good-sized fruit.  I may eat one now and not wait for it to turn red!

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The bush wax beans are in full bloom.  I expect to find beans waiting to be picked any day.

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The first tomato, right on schedule.  Think I’ll pick it for my salad today, before some slug or mouse can chew a hole in it.

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Lettuce, anyone?  This is head lettuce.  I let it grow close together and thin as I need lettuce until just a few large plants are left to make heads.

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Bachelor buttons, marigolds and zinnias to brighten the garden and provide cut flowers.  The Japanese beetles were devouring the zinnias.  Finally I dusted them with insecticide and the plants have started to bloom.  No bugs bother the marigolds, they have natural insecticides to keep pests away.

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Garden’s In

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After much weed pulling, tilling and fence installation, the garden was ready to plant last week.  It took two days to get all the seeds in the earth.  The weather has been so dry for so long that the dirt was like talcum powder.  I watered after planting to give the seeds a start.

The weather forecast was for rain over the past weekend and through most of this week.  Happily, we finally got a good soaking yesterday afternoon and overnight.  It poured!  Now the sprouts will start to pop up.

g2It is time to set the last of the plants in the garden:  the tomato and red pepper seedlings.  These came from a greenhouse last week and have been hardening off outside in the shade, preparing for the harsh conditions in the full sun and open air.  The tomatoes already have flowers!  The variety is Early Girl, a nice medium-sized tomato that is very early.  Usually I get my first fruit by mid-late July.  Yum, can hardly wait for that juicy, home-grown taste!

Planting Time

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Here are some of the seeds I’ll be planting today.  Just seeing all that lovely produce inspires me to get out there and weed and till!

Currently the garden is little more than a 50 foot square spot of dirt choked with weeds and overgrown with Jerusalem artichokes in one corner.  The area will quickly transform, with my exertions, into a fenced spot of fresh earth marked with rows of newly sown seed.a1The spring has been cool and dry, again.  Chance of frost still exists, but I’m willing to get started now.  Tomorrow’s forecast is rainy, perfect for jump-starting plants.  Next week I will put the tender tomato and pepper seedlings in the ground.

By the first week of June we should be safe from frost.  Yesterday was 86F, with lots of sun.  Today is cloudy and mid-fifties.  The weather is so changeable in Maine in spring that it doesn’t do to take something like last frost dates for granted.

News from the Frontlines: Battle of the Rattle

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Update on the Battle of the Rattle, my ongoing campaign to wipe out yellow rattle in my hayfields:  the scales are tipping in my favor.  After mowing the entire hayfield with the rotary mower in mid-June, I hoped the rattle would be defeated for this year.  Surveillance proved otherwise.

Plentiful rains after the mowing encouraged regrowth from the cut stems.  Rattle sprang up and rejoined the fray.  By last week, the parasitic plant was blooming all over the field.  I have a new tactic, this one will be the decisive move of the war.  Methodically, by quadrant, I am sweeping the entire field and pulling the parasites by hand.

The work is long, hard, hot and grim.  Deer flies and mosquitoes buzz my head and attack any exposed flesh. The burning July sun beats down.  My back aches from bending to pull the endless plants.  I fill bags with the plant bodies and throw the casualties deep in the dark woods where they will never be seen again.

So far I’ve cleared about one-third of the field.  I’m not sure how big the entire area is, several acres, at least.  Yellow rattle is a rigid, brittle plant.  To remove it from the ground, a gentle, steady pressure is applied.  Pull too hard and the stem snaps.  Pull just right and the entire puny root system comes loose. Rattle does not require a lot of roots since it gets nourishment by tapping into the roots of other plants.r3

r2I use great care not to drop a single seed pod. Each pod contains twenty or more seeds. A dropped green pod will mature to papery-gray with loose seeds rattling around inside, ready to start a new generation of the weed.

Removing rattle by hand will defeat the plant.  The only threat that remains is seeds that got into the field in the last couple years.  They can still germinate next year.  I will be ever vigilant.  If more plants show their miserable yellow heads next spring, I will be all over them, yanking them from the ground.  Next year, I will not lose my hay crop.