Saturday, August 23, 2014

Summer Comes To An End

Though peaches hit local markets as early as June, ours ripen at summer's end.
Huckleberries measured for a pie
My Farmer's Almanac arrived in the mail, boasting over last winter's dead-on forecast in retrospect. It's calling for another "polar vortex" winter to come. If an early chicken molt is any indication, growers might want to get their fall crops in early. We did. For now winter's a long way off, as we harvest through hot, hazy late August.

Winter gourds curing in the sun
Our harvest baskets look a lot different now than they did in July. For one, there's a lot more fruit - peaches, figs, berries, and melons. We're even getting some early apples. We're harvesting the heavy weights now - watermelons in the 40-50 pound range! Even some pumpkins and gourds have joined the ensemble. Sunny, dry afternoons help to cure winter squash for longer shelf life.

Dry beans
In order to create space for fall broccoli, cabbage, and greens, we half-heartedly began garden clean-up in the corn patch. We're turning our attention to seed gathering so we can continue to grow our heirloom varieties next year.      
Seed saving operation
Abundance of watermelon
Heirloom "Rattlesnake" watermelon weighing 41 pounds
Assorted pumpkins curing in the garden
Popping corn plants to left promise a delicious harvest in October

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Late Season Harvests

Heirloom organic Golden Bantam corn
These assorted peppers went into salsa
Cool, cloudy, August weather reminded me so much of an Indiana corn roast, we decided to do just that! It was tradition at my Acadian clan reunions. They welded an iron grate above a water reservoir inside a large metal trash barrel, which would be set over a fire, perfect for steaming-roasting 12 dozen ears of corn. We don't have the metal barrel, but a grill set over hardwood coals will work just as well. The most essential part we have: big, beautiful ears of dark yellow heirloom Golden Bantam corn. This tried-and-true sweet corn dating from 1902 holds plenty of true corny flavor though a little bit starchy to our taste. It roasts fragrant and richly golden.

Eggplant, a Mediterranean staple, ripen beautifully

To date, we've harvested and processed 10 bushels of tomatoes, crocked nearly 1,000 pickles, and even tried pickled watermelon rinds. We've made enough salsa and canned enough beans to last more than a year. We made jam out of our late-season red raspberries, and we'll need to do something with a plentiful crop of garden huckleberries. Indian-colored popcorn is silking out now for an October harvest, and green pumpkins have started to change to orange. Apples, peaches, and figs will be coming soon.
Rattlesnake heirloom watermelon swelling to 40 lbs
Drying bean fence (left) uses space behind the barn
Golden Nugget tomatoes
Heirloom Golden Bantam corn

Rainy day harvest

Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy Summer Solstice 2014

'Gold Nugget' tomatoes ripe on June 12
Beets to add some color
Welcome first day of summer 2014! Summer solstice, known in ancient time as Midsummer and in the Christian era as John the Baptist’s birthday (six months before Christmas), has been celebrated for all of recorded human history; sources say we feel significantly happier at this time of year, most likely due to lengthening daylight hours.1 Farmers and homesteaders, always tied to cycles, know that summer means extra work and long days. As we’ve sown diligently, we reap the firstfruits of an abundant harvest. Blessings abound; there is much for which to give thanks.
White garlic (not elephant)

It’s time to pull canning jars out of storage and gather food in the harvest (the homesteader’s version of Solomon’s proverb). We welcomed tomatoes almost a month early this year thanks to different heirloom varieties.  Summer isn’t summer without a batch of our overnight refrigerator dill pickles; I host a much-anticipated pickle party in the work office each June.

Dill heads are an ingredient for great
pickles; picked an average
of 28 cukes per day!

We feel reward, seeing a plate of roast chicken and a variety of fruits and vegetables, realizing we grew everything here. Taking Solomon’s advice in time of abundance, we ladle produce into canning jars for a leaner time; maybe it will remind us of summer sunshine and rain when we open these jars. Who needs an excuse to celebrate when there’s sweet corn, blueberry pie, kids running through the sprinkler, and fireflies at dusk.

Ecclesiastes 5:18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
Red and black raspberries, and blackberries; these went into triple-berry jam

White onions, many the size of softballs, drying in the barn
Sweet corn silked out June 15; it will be ready by the 4th of July

1Message me for citation

Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day

Red raspberries begin to ripen immediately after cherries are harvested
Since most gardens start out as tilled patches of lawn, weeds become a serious problem this time of year. I like how Robert Frost described the process with "Putting In The Seed" (Mountain Interval, 1920):
Nanking bush cherries ready to fill a Memorial Day pie

How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

"Soil tarnishes with weed," appropriate mental image. Some people ask what's the organic way to control weeds.  The best approach IMO is to actually get down on hands and knees and pull every single weed by hand after a good rain once. Then, cover space between plants with cardboard or newspaper, and layer grass clippings, straw, or mulched leaves on top. This approach keeps weeds down for us all summer. Except in the corn, where my Mantis tiller and a hoe do a fine job once or twice until towering stalks shade the earth.
These short carrots were harvested from our cold frame
Though it's still early in the season, we're enjoying harvests of beets, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, onions, peas, carrots, strawberries, sour cherries, and raspberries. We always have fresh eggs on hand, thanks to our egg-laying Rhode Island Reds. Herbs are at their peak freshness now, too.

Summer crops of cukes, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers are soon coming. Happy Memorial Day and happy gardening season as we celebrate the unofficial start of summer.
Love these helpers!

The vegetable garden in May

Lettuce, broccoli, and peas on the fence (volunteer sunflower to the right)

Huge pea pods with 12 peas swelling inside

Spring garden to the left, summer garden center, and corn patch right

Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 4, 2014

A sample of the mixed heirloom lettuce we grow - 'Red Salad Bowl,' 'Black Seeded Simpson,' and 'Red Romaine'.
Chives in bloom.

It's strawberry season.  The kids didn't need a reminder; they raced outdoors first thing in a tumble of giggles, "I'm going to beat yous," and one "wait for me" looking for a pair of crocks.  Welcome May, month of cherry jam, berries, and more good things to come on our hobby farm.  A beautiful and slow spring has been ideal for growing spinach, and we expect to process 2 dozen+ quarts for the freezer.  For root crops, we have beets, radishes, and carrots in the cold frame still. Lettuce is a little out of hand and is begging our first tomatoes, still a month away.  Broccoli and peas will be producing a heavy crop soon.

'Passion and Purity' Iris.
One new project we're working on this year is a dry bean fence along the barn.  We ordered several varieties of heirloom climbing pole-type beans, suitable for drying, from the Seed Saver's Exchange in Iowa.  By the way, we are moving almost entirely to heirloom variety vegetables and plan to save our own seeds from year to year.  The dry beans will make great additions to soups and other dishes as a source of protein.  Sweet corn, melons, cukes, zucchini, sunflowers, and huckleberries are all planted.  

We couldn't be happier with our pasture-raised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free broiler chickens.  All our birds weighed in over 6 lbs. processed, at half the cost per pound for the same label at market price.  The flavor?  If you lived close to a farm before the commercial chicken industry, you might have an idea what a real chicken tastes like.  And it's something you'd never forget, in a longing sort of way.
Peas climbing the fence in the foreground, followed by 25 ft. rows of broccoli, lettuce, and spinach.

The cold frame still producing lettuce,
carrots, and beets.  A second-year 'Goldrush'
apple tree just beyond.
Pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, hormone-free Cornish Cross broiler chickens at 8 weeks.

Fresh processed chickens weighing over 6 lbs each.  That's more than 18 lbs of meat!
And with that rich yellow skin, it's time for some Southern Fried Chicken.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

April 10, 2014

Calling all bees!  Winesap apple blossoms greet the Spring.
The cold frame has been a huge success this year as we're gathering spinach, radishes, carrots, beets, and loads of mixed lettuce up to one month before the spring garden could have produced it.  But the main garden is under way as peas, carrots, onions, broccoli, and 625 ft. of spinach are growing well in this beautiful Spring season.  We added two plum trees this year, a Red Santa Rosa, and a Blue Damson, to our orchard collection of apples, peaches, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and figs.  Warm-season vegetable seedlings are growing and will be ready to transplant out in a week or two, when we will also plant many of our heirloom beans, cukes, melons, squash, and corn varieties from seed.

The cold frame, in peak of Spring production.  After this crop is harvested, we will use the frame to grow eggplant.

8 varieties of tomatoes, various peppers, lettuce, and herbs to be transplanted into the garden soon.

The strawberry pyramid bed in bloom.

Cornish Cross broilers at four weeks old, already weighing in at a meaty two pounds, free-range over grass.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring at Palmetto Acres Garden

Baby lettuce, spinach, radishes, beets, and carrots growing happily in the cold frame.

Jumbo-sized brown eggs from our layers.
Spring was all the buzz this weekend!  We had gorgeous weather to garden in South Carolina.  There's not much in season, just some early mixed greens, lemons, and farm-fresh eggs (sounds to me like a recipe for lemon bars and spring salad; oh, we added a couple early radishes on that salad, too).  Plans are being put into action for this summer's food garden, and already some vegetable seeds are sprouting under fluorescent lights indoors.  It's our fourth year on this property, and fruit trees look like they are going to put on a heavy crop - 10 bush cherries are lit up with hundreds of thousands of white blossoms; if there are no late freezes, we will need braces for peach and apple trees.

Meyer lemons ripening indoors.

Last spring we introduced laying chickens to our hobby farm; there has been no more fun and rewarding endeavor.  Our jumbo-sized eggs do not fit well in standard egg containers.  We're adding meat chickens this year of the Cornish Rock variety, which top out at 6-8 pounds by eight weeks of age.  It's the same breed chicken in any grocery store; ours will be raised on an organic diet and free-ranged over grass, as natural a life as possible, which should yield highly superior meat at less cost per pound than market free-range organic chickens.

Laying hens in their movable chicken run.
Cornish Rock chick
Cornish Rock chicks get their first meal in the brooder.  As cute as they are, these are livestock, not pets.

About Me

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Dedicated to the responsible production and preservation of healthy home-grown food to the glory of God. Isaiah 55:10 The rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. Organic, or not? We try to raise vegetables organically, using compost and manure. The addition of chickens to our hobby farm means plenty of organic nitrogen to compost! This site gives credible reference to planting information contained in the Farmer's Almanac (