Bugs and disease

I have an invasion of the worst kind.

ImageMy garden has squash bugs and so far I’ve lost four scallop squash plants and two zucchini plants. A cucumber vine is looking a wee bit on the pathetic side but I don’t know yet if it’s squash bugs or something else.

Squash bugs are nasty little things. I spotted the egg clusters first and, never having had a squash bug invasion before, really didn’t know what they were.

ImageBut I smushed them any way, purely on the principle that if I don’t immediately recognize the bug (or the eggs), it can’t be good for my plants.

And I was right.

My poor garden is having a really rough year. My tomatoes were hit hard with early blight and I’ve been battling it since spring when we had too much rain and not enough warm sunshine. I think at least two plants are done for. I think my potatoes have been stricken with it, too. I dug up a potato plant with my hand over the weekend just to see what I could see and plunged right into a stinking, rotten, soupy mass of slimy potato sludge. Ugh. Same disease that hit the Irish potato crop that cause the an Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger, or, as it’s more commonly known, The Great Potato Famine) in the mid 1800s. I see why they starved, there is no way anyone could even consider eating that mess of rot.

My poor garden is suffering from an overgrowth of weeds and right now, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I’ve been working 12+ hours a day for the past three weeks, which leaves just enough time to sleep and say hi to my family in passing. I’ve managed to get up early a couple of times to get a few things done in the gardens and around the property, but not nearly enough. This weekend I have plans to get all caught up, but I’m not terribly optimistic.

On a positive note, the green/wax beans are extremely prolific this year. I picked part of one row last weekend and canned 7 quarts with about 1 quart of raw beans left over. And I know there are tons more out there to pick! We might not have a decent potato and tomato crop this year, but we are going to be up to our eyeballs in beans.

Things are rotten

I’ve been a little bit sad for the past couple of weeks.

Last year, my whole garden croaked due to the extreme heat and extreme lack of rain.

This year, everything is rotting due to the lower than normal temperatures and record-breaking amounts of rain. I found one of my patty pan squash plants (my favorite one, of course. The one that grows beautiful, sweet white squash) wilted and dying this morning. I noticed Saturday it was starting to mold and rot around the plant near the ground, nothing I could do at that point. I’ve been battling black spot on the tomatoes weekly. And now…the Japanese beetles are hitting the beans and potatoes.

I was out weeding my carrot bed (the one thing that is thriving? WEEDS!!! Ugh) and accidentally grabbed a carrot instead of a weed. And the top popped off.

I was left holding an aromatic carrot frond in my hand.

But no carrot.

What the heck? Double check. Yup. There that root was, rotten and slimy and still stuck in the ground.

Instant heartbreak. I started pulling them all up, hoping to save at least a few. I managed to get about half. The other half was all rotted.

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Not a bad pile, but not as many as I expected.

This does not give me many for canning. I had grand visions of more than a few jars of carrots this year. I guess it was just not meant to be.

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I love the smell of carrot tops!

The tops sure are pretty, aren’t they? And the rabbits ate them up like candy! Nom nom nom. If you’ve never smelled a carrot freshly pulled from the ground, you don’t know what you’re missing! It’s an earthy, carrot-y, woodsy smell and cannot be duplicated.

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Oh, so tiny, so few.

Because I had to pull them up earlier than expected, they didn’t really get very big. Stumpy carrots are this year’s specialty!

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Naughty naughty carrots!

Well…I don’t even know where to begin! My carrots, they aren’t G-rated! Naughty little things! I was cracking up as I pulled them out of the ground and saw the weird shapes some of them grew in. Moral of the deformed carrots: (obviously, my carrots have no morals!) dig deeper and work the ground a little finer for the carrot bed next year.

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Horse…dog…goose…MAN!

My poor husband. He can’t go anywhere alone. He always has a little party of critters following him around, harassing and helping. Harassing more than helping I do believe.

Things of spring

I can’t say spring is my favorite season, but it sure is a lovely time of year. Every thing is growing and blooming and popping up every where.

irisI planted these last year and had no idea what color they were. My mother-in-law was thinning her bed and gifted me an entire tub of Iris roots. I learned later they originally came from her mother’s garden. I love that.

Early spring gardenThis is my garden about a month ago. Onions, lettuce, carrots, spinach, beans just planted and peppers. It looks A LOT different now! A whole lot more green, growing food things.

Mixed green lettucesOur first lettuce harvest of the season. Baby greens, an Italian mesclun mix and oh so yummy! What do you look forward to most from your garden in the spring? While I love the tomatoes (can’t beat a garden fresh tomato), I really, really look forward to the first greens of the season. To me, that means the growing season has officially begun and if everything else shrivels up and dies, at least I had lettuces.

ShroomsGuess what else loves our wet, wet, wet spring? Mushrooms! I have no idea what kind these are but they sure love my manure pile a lot. And that’s a good thing because mushrooms are excellent at making good compost.

As the dirt warms

Ahhh, yes. That time of year has finally arrived. I’ve spent the last three weeks chomping at the bit to get out into the gardens and get busy. Now, it’s here and I’m busy! I’ve never been one of those people who can sit still for very long. I can’t barely sit through an entire movie so winter is usually torture for me. I scrub walls and cabinets, ceilings and light fixtures because I cannot just sit and do nothing. Let’s just say, by the time spring rolls around, there isn’t much left to “spring clean” in my house.

Thank goodness for that, though, because if I had to spring clean my house, it wouldn’t get done. I’ve been busy, busy creating new beds, preparing old ones for new plantings and planting. So far, I have carrots, onions, romaine lettuce, a mesclun lettuce mix, spinach and 24 new asparagus crowns in the ground. Doesn’t seem like much, when typed, but in the ground, that’s a lot of space to prep and plant. And, that’s only the veggies. I’ve also prepped and planted three new wildflower beds, a sunflower bed, marigolds, lavender and a hummingbird/butterfly/bee garden. Four more of those left to prep and plant, along with the rest of the veggies. I won’t put tomatoes, peppers or eggplant into the ground for a couple more weeks, but potatoes, beans, summer squash and new herbs will be going in this weekend and early next week.

We started a new clutch of eggs Sunday, and between the new incubator fan and upgraded thermometer/hygrometer I’m hoping we get a hatch this time. We candle for the first time in 6 days then again a week later. Then, cross fingers, eyes and toes and hope for the best! I read that incubating eggs is part art, part science, and I have to agree. Successful momma chickens just rose a few notches in my admiration book!

Drooping blooms

Spring is officially here…doesn’t that mean the temperatures are supposed to follow suit? We’ve remained below freezing, but that hasn’t stopped things from trying to bloom and bud.

My daffodils figured since the days are growing longer, it must be time to wake up and open their pretty yellow heads to welcome the sun.

Yeah. Not so much. Just ’cause the sun is out doesn’t mean it’s warm.

ImageThese poor guys…the freezing temperatures have wilted them. I don’t know if they will recover this season. The blooms were frozen as the sun came up. I expect they will be slimy by the time the sun sets tonight.

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So sad, drooping daffodils, the promise of spring an ugly lie. It’s like spring poked its head out, teased with a brief warmth and sunshine, then slapped us in the face and yelled “JUST KIDDING!!!”

Tonight, there’s snow in the forecast and lingering freezing temperatures. Last year at this time, it was 80 degrees and the farmers were busy planting corn. What a difference a year makes.

Year-end roundup

We got through the summer, despite the heat and drought. We had to have water hauled out to refill our dry well a few times, but thankfully we saw some rain raise the water table towards the end of summer. Too late to save my squash and melon and bean plants from turning to crispy bits of formerly living things.

I canned what I could: Several quarts of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, rabbit stew and shredded rabbit (mmmm!) and chicken broth. We harvested many huge, tasty, sweet potatoes and a bucketful of late season turnips. The late-season beets did not do well and the late-season spinach did not produce enough to bother with. My garden is currently wintering beneath a layer of rabbit manure mulch and garden leftovers, waiting for the first bite of the tiller to dig in as soon as the ground is warm enough to get out there.

We are in the middle of winter now, and so far, it has been significantly milder than I expected. We’ve had some moisture, not much. We’ve had a few below-freezing days, but not many. I am worried this could be a precursor to a dry, warm spring and another hot, dry summer.

I think I will approach keeping my garden watered a bit differently this year. I learned the hard way that the overhead watering system (a sprinkler) cannot compete with dry, windy conditions and the plants fail. This year, I think I will invest in a good quantity of soaker hose and nestle the hose near the neediest plants. I am also going to reduce the number of tomato varieties this year. We had WAY too many cherry tomatoes and not enough good, meaty canning/eating tomatoes.

The spring seed catalogues have begun arriving and I am drooling and ready to start ordering. But before I do, I need to sit down and design my garden, decide what I’m going to plant and where, maybe try some companion planting this year. I do know that although I thought it was big enough last year, I need to add a few more feet this spring. And cattle panels will make better vining bean supports than strings between posts. For sure.

What are your “must have” veggie plants?

A few things have happened since I last posted (forever ago, I know!)

1. I got married to a good ole farm boy who has no problem doing some of the heavy lifting around here.

2. I somehow managed to acquire two more horses, bringing my herd up to five plus one boarder. Six horses takes a lot more time to care for than three! Just sayin’.

3. We started breeding/raising/butchering rabbits. We are working on perfecting the process so we can make the venture worthwhile. So far the meat we’ve gotten from the rabbits is yummy, but about as pricey as a filet mignon, pound for pound. I’m working on ways to reduce our costs (feeding), otherwise, it’s just not worth it. I would also like to figure out how to market them, and that requires some FDA research. I’m not sure if we can sell them dressed, or live only.

4. There are more than 20 homegrown, free-range chickens in my freezer. I will be doing the chicken-raising venture again! Aside from the initial expense of buying the broiler chicks and feeding them a high-protein diet for the first few weeks of life, the meat and effort was definitely worth the end result.

5. I’m down to only about 20 egg-layers, so much for having enough to sell some of the eggs. We get more than enough eggs to keep us well-fed, but not enough to sell. If I get a good broody hen this spring, I’m going to let her set and see what we get.

Things that keep us busy

Despite the wretched, no-relief heat, utter lack of rain and a well that’s on the fritz, the garden is faring decently.

The squash and melon and cucumber plants all look so wilted and pathetic during the day, but they perk right back up once the sun starts going down.

Ignore the brown, crispy peas…I need to get them outta there. The Swiss Chard is non-stop!

Sweet potatoes in the foreground, peppers (sweet, habanero, jalapeno and chili) and tomatoes.

The peas are kaput, they don’t tolerate heat at all, and the spinach and the broccoli have bolted, but the tomatoes, scallop squash and beans? Oh, boy, they are producing like mad.

The good stuff.

The Yukon Gold cherry tomatoes and Sweet 100 cherries have been so productive I was starting to wonder how many I could tolerate eating before I was just plumb sick of ’em. So, what’s a girl do with pounds and pounds and pounds of cherry tomatoes?

Well, can them of course!

Preparing to make good stuff.

I decided to make pickled cherry tomatoes. It’s a quick and easy recipe from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and requires only water bath processing.

Eisley Wax Hot Peppers, from my sister’s garden.

The man requested a bit of hot added to a couple of the jars, so, we inserted a whole dried Eisley Wax Hot Pepper into a couple of the jars next to the fresh rosemary and garlic. The peppers were gifted to me from my sister’s garden, and they are SPICY HOT! I won’t be tasting those particular jars. They are all his.

The first jars are packed and in the canner for 10 minutes.

Ever notice how waiting for a pot to boil can take FOREVER? Especially when you have to do it a few times.

Such pretty jars.

We ended up with 12 pints and 4 quarts of pickled rosemary/garlic cherry tomatoes. And I still had plenty of cherry tomatoes left, I was just done with canning at that point. And I ran out of pint jars and I’m saving the quart jars for more beans.

Here’s the recipe I used.

Pickled Grape Tomatoes

Yield: 4 pints

2 quarts grape tomatoes

1 teaspoon canning salt

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup white vinegar

1 quart water

4 cloves garlic

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Wash and drain tomatoes. Combine salt, the vinegars and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Pack grape tomatoes into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Add 1 clove garlic and 1 sprig rosemary to each jar. Ladle hot liquid over tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Oh! I love getting a call from the post office at 6 a.m…. “Hey, you have a box here, and it’s peeping!” We got 31 broilers and 12 more laying hens in this batch: 2 Ancona, 3 Black Jersey Giants, 4 Americaunas and 3 Rhode Island Reds.

Oh, such tired babies! It was a long trip.

A few more weeks and the two latest litters of bunnies will be ready to head to freezer camp. Bunnies have got to be among some of the cutest babies ever. Kayleigh has already claimed one to keep, a little rust-colored doe who is fairly large. She’ll be a good addition to the breeding stock.

Well, hello there little bunnies, all clustered in front of the fan and waiting for their bottles of ice.

It’s hard to keep them comfortable in this heat, but we do what we can with fans and 2 liter bottles of ice. They eagerly await their ice bottles every day and lay next to them all day long.

Seriously, where are the ice bottles! Soon, little bunnies, soon.

Kayleigh has been really on top of the bottles during this heat. We did, unfortunately, lose one litter during the hottest part of this horrible heat. Ten 100+ days in a row were too hard on the week old kits. We won’t breed any of the does again until late August.