Dear friends of farmers, Larry and I just spent a long weekend at our hobby farm located in southwest Nebraska near the Kansas border. We had a nice few days doing inside tasks that have been on our mental to-do list for some time. The weather warmed up and tried to coax us outdoors, but we prevailed. Then, Sunday afternoon, we were startled by a howling wind which we usually can't hear from inside our house. Larry went out to look and then called to me from the front steps. I soon grabbed my camera and took several pictures.
Our house sets low and is sheltered on nearly three sides by trees. So here we were, standing on our front steps in a nearly calm house yard, watching something fierce happening only about 50 yards away. It is winter, but it was not a beautiful, snowy whiteout. No, it was a nasty, dirty brown-out from blowing top soil coming off the pastures and fields northeast of us. The thick dust not only blocked out the scenery, but brought with it scary pictures of the dust bowl era. This land is in its fourth year of drought, and it is a somber time and place.
The beginning: The wind shifted to the north and the temperature dropped 20 degrees in two hours.
Contrast: Our house yard was nearly calm, but something fierce was happening just 50 yards away.
Nothingness: The dust blotted out the landscape.
Dear readers, do you like rhubarb? My husband, Larry, used to chew on the tart stalks when he was a kid, but I could never do that. I once made a rhubarb pie for our suppers’ group, and one of the ladies quickly told me she wouldn’t like it. I encouraged her to take a couple bites, explaining that my custard-like filling softens the taste. She loved it! I’ll include the recipe below.
Rhubarb was the first perennial vegetable I planted on our little farm, right after the fruit trees and berries. It just seemed to me that every farm should have some, so I begged a few plants off my neighbor, and later bought more from Earl May Nursery.
Maybe they were just rhubarb plants, but I was very excited to see them emerge from the ground.
I had just the place for them, tucked in between the fence of the garden bed and one of the apple orchards. It turned out to be a perfect spot as whenever the garden was watered, so was the rhubarb, and that is how I discovered that rhubarb can be good the whole summer if you don’t let it dry out and get stringy.
Look closely. Do you see what is snuggled under the leaves?! Photo by Nancy
The plants thrived, and I felt a little guilty; wondered why I planted so many just to watch it go unused. Much to my surprise, it has become a favorite.
To harvest, I simply cut it off close to the ground, wash, chop into small pieces, and bag in two- or three-cup quantities for the freezer. Even the large leaves are handy, as I layer them around the plants to smother the weeds.
Then, do I make pies? Seldom! (I’ll probably need to, though, after Larry reads this!) Instead, I make sauce, by simmering it with a small amount of sugar – about 1/4 cup or to taste. It couldn’t be quicker or easier. Then we use the sauce on vanilla ice cream. Yum! The mixture of sweet and tart is the best! It is good on oatmeal, too.
Those who make a lot of jam also use rhubarb as a filler, as it picks up the flavor of the berries and you don’t need as many.
Now, here is what my daughter-in-law, Nancy, discovered: She tried a recipe out of the Ball Canning Book for “Sunshine Rhubarb Juice Concentrate,” and it was a success. In fact, Todd likes it so well, he thinks we should market it! He enjoys keeping a jar cooling in the fridge for hot summer days, and getting his friends to try and guess what it is made from. It is a concentrate, so it can be thinned, or added to other juices, ice tea, lemonade, or punch for an extra “kick.”
I imagine many of you have favorite rhubarb recipes of your own. Perhaps for a good crisp?! Here are the two that I mentioned:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
3 cups rhubarb
Mix dry ingredients. Beat eggs slightly, and combine eggs, milk and butter with dry ingredients. Mix in rhubarb. Place between two pie shells. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes. Then, 350 F for 45 minutes. Enjoy!
Sunshine Rhubarb Juice Concentrate
(Makes 4 or 5 pint jars, so you might want to double the recipe.)
12 cups chopped rhubarb, in about 1-inch long slices
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb and water, lemon zest, and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and orange juice.
Transfer to a dampened jelly bag or strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth set over a deep bowl. Let drip for at least 2 hours.
Combine rhubarb juice and sugar and while stirring, bring back to 190 degrees over heat to dissolve sugar.
Prepare hot water bath canner and lids. Process pints for 10 minutes. Then allow them to cool for 5 minutes before pulling them out of the canner.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” Greek Proverb.
Dear readers, I hope you read my last blog about our fruit orchards, or at least looked at the many pictures of the beautiful trees and fruit. This time, I’m going to tell you about our experience with nut trees, and there will be no lovely pictures of pecans or walnuts. How I wish there were, but nut trees take several years to produce, and unfortunately, we don’t have that much time. We planted a few, anyway, in hopes that our children might bring us some nuts when they visit us in the nursing home! However, it appears that nut trees don’t like us, anyway. Here is our experience:
As it so happened, Stark Brother’s Nursery had a sale on nut trees right after we finished planting the fruit trees, so we placed an order. Then, it so happened that Larry had another unexpected surgery - a hernia repair this time. Boy, he knows how to time them, so Todd had to dig more holes for us. By the time the trees came, Larry was able to do the planting.
A big hole.
A little nut tree
We haven’t had as much luck with the nut trees. In fact, nearly no luck at all. The two English walnut trees took off, looked beautiful, and soon needed a bigger enclosure. After we did the work to provide them with more room, we noticed they had a disease. We can only hope they will grow out of it, but they don’t appear to be. We are bummed because we love English walnuts and they were growing so well.
Let me out of here!
Room to stretch and grow for a while longer.
Then there are the pecans. We first purchased two seed-grown Missouri Hardy Pecans. One died, and we have replaced it twice. We’ll see if this last one is alive in the spring. Without a pollinator, maybe the one left will just be good firewood someday. We then tried two grafted pecans. Honestly, I’m not sure how many of those we replaced. Sad, because we also love pecans, and I have the best recipe for pecan pie.
Continuing on. We found a place for two filbert, also called hazel nut trees. They started out alright, looking beautiful the first summer, but then both were dead the following spring. We replaced them last fall, so we’ll see. We love hazelnuts and they, like other nuts, are so good for our health.
We have one nut tree that is hanging in there: A self-pollinating almond we planted in the house yard. Do you suppose ….
Good thing the grocery store has nuts!
Quote: “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” Janet Kilburn Phillips
When I remember this quote, it allows me to try new gardening adventures without any guilt if they don’t work out.
Although we have many wild mulberry trees in the lower field, we purchased a mulberry tree that produces extra sweet, 1 1/2 inch-long fruit. Yes! We got to taste test those last year, and they lived up to our expectations.
Then, Larry was inspired to plant a butternut tree after we read about them in the book “Little Heathens” by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. The book is about rural life in Iowa during the depression years. Since we are both from Iowa, we could relate to many of the stories, and are thankful this time and place has been recorded for history. Now, concerning the tree, I think we can refer back to the Greek Proverb at the beginning of this blog!
I’m going to end with my own quote that you might want to remember right now: “Perhaps one should never look at a Stark Brother's Catalogue in January. Like post childbirth, you soon forget the labor, and new trees will arrive in April!”
Dear readers, I have decided to stray from telling our farm story in chronological order, and instead, tell the story from beginning until now of different subjects. I’m excited to start off with our fruit trees as they were the first thing we planted. If you are thinking about starting an orchard, or if those dwarf fruit trees in the nursery catalogs have been calling to you, you might be interested in what we've experienced.
It was early spring in 2010 when 21 bare root trees arrived at our city home in two skinny boxes about 8 by 12 inches and 4 feet high. Surely some were missing, but no, they actually all fit in there. We were glad that Stark Brother’s Nursery had pruned them for us, because we would never have done it so severely. A few were just sticks, and the rest had only a few branches about 4 inches long. We wondered how long it would take sticks to produce fruit.
We had planned on a long weekend at the farm to dig the holes, plant, and finish the fencing. Todd was going to help us, but it would still be a tight squeeze to get it all done, and then it happened. Larry fizzled out on us by having an emergency appendectomy the night before we left. Of course, he insisted on going with us when he was released the next morning. That sounds like Larry doesn’t it? He could have stayed home, watched movies and been taken care of by Perry, but no, he had to go along. Then the doctor didn’t help my argument. He said Larry could go and do anything he wanted as long as he didn’t hurt. I thought, “That doctor doesn’t know Larry!” Also, Perry’s instructions were still ringing in my head: “Mom, you know Dad! Don’t let him work!” As it turned out, on the trip out to the farm, Larry was suddenly in pain and asking for more medication. It finally dawned on me, “Duh, of course he was going to hurt!"
Each hole was started by the post hole digger that came with our newly acquired tractor. Then Larry and I were amazed watching Todd finish digging the 21 holes by hand, plus accumulating all the supplies to amend our soil with better dirt from another area, peat moss and compost. He followed the old timer's adage that says you need a $10 hole for a $5 tree, and dug the holes 2 feet deep and 30 inches wide. I helped him plant the trees, and finish the fourth side of the fence for all three beds.
Quote: “I feel so useless.” Larry
The variety orchard - just sticks!
That weekend, we planted two nearly duplicate apple orchards containing six different trees each. We also had a variety orchard containing two plum, two pear, a peach, a nectarine and an apricot. Then, in another place, we planted two semi-dwarf cherry trees with make-shift protection until another time. Along with the labor, Todd and I had put our hearts into those trees and felt like they were our babies. We were thankful we got all the planting finished, but wished we didn't have to leave so soon. We wanted to just look at them for a while. Watch them grow.
As Paul Harvey would say, “And now for the rest of the story!”
One month later: The little sticks came out of dormancy and were getting blossoms and leaves. Every tree was alive!
A peach tree by the end of the first summer. Amazing.
Stark's instructions warned us of both the importance of enough water and the tendency to over water, so we faithfully kept track on a chalkboard the dates when we watered and when it rained.
The second summer: A quote by Todd that he loved to tell: “ Our trees produced four apples. Dad knocked one off and ran over it with the lawn mower. We lost a fourth of our crop!”
The third summer we had a small harvest.
Here is a plum tree on the third summer. Three late freezes got them this past (fourth) summer.
Even with the freeze, we got 31 delicious pears!
Three late freezes also got our peach trees this past summer, but one day I was watering the orchards, looked up, and there were three beautiful peaches in the middle of the tree. The thing that excited us the most was how delicious they were. We had just purchased two boxes of Colorado peaches, and these were even more tasty! How exciting to hope for a good crop of peaches next summer!
This was our fourth summer, and we had plenty of wonderful apples to eat, to can applesauce, and to dry in our Excalibur food dehydrator. I had used the dehydrator for a few things, but this was definitely our favorite. Yum! We love having dried apples handy to munch on.
We decided from the beginning to not use any chemicals on our trees and let them become strong on their own. Late one summer, we discovered that one of our apple trees had just up and died, and we couldn’t figure out the cause. But, one out of 21 isn't bad. We also have to deal with late frosts. The method that worked one spring for us was to turn a sprinkler on the orchards during the night when frost was predicted.
We love our trees, and it has been a fun experience for Larry and me. If you are interested in growing fruit trees, we would highly recommend Stark Brother’s Nursery. (They should pay me for this!)
Dear readers, I thought I should introduce you to a new character that joined us on our second year at the farm – Kubota! Do you own a tractor? If so, do you remember getting it, or getting your very first one? I was raised on a farm along the Little Sioux River in Iowa, and was familiar with them, even having driven them a little. But, to have our very own – especially when it was so desperately needed – now that is something special! Needless to say, Larry was elated when we got ours, and here is how it came about:
Our son, Todd, would be moving in a few months and wouldn’t need his tractor any more for lane maintenance. He was happy to sell it to us, and we were happy to get one that Larry had even helped pick out. Todd said he would visit, teach his dad how to use it and maintain it. What a bargain! He also arranged for the delivery, and we watched with awe as it was unloaded. It had an amazing mower, a box scraper, straight scraper, tiller, and posthole digger. The fun would soon begin!
Let me tell you, though, as I was looking at the tractor, I remembered the gray-haired couple who had been cleaning up the land for the past year with only muscle and wheelbarrows, and I kind of resented it – for a minute or two!
Todd: He had experienced owning and using a tractor and was glad it would have a good home! It would be fun teaching his dad how to use it and the equipment.
Larry: A little bit more of hog heaven!
Dear readers, buying our little hobby farm in 2009 was the realization of a dream. A big dream. I recently ended the last story of our first summer on the farm by using the anonymous quote: “When one of your dreams come true, you begin to look at the others more carefully.” I can’t stress enough the power of that quote , as the set patterns of life so often tell us “no” that we forget that our dreams can be possibilities. Once I read that quote and realized the truth of it, there was no stopping us. It was only January, but we already had a dream-maker book – the Stark Brother’s Nursery Catalog.
A dream-maker catalog
Are you one to get excited when the newest nursery catalog appears in your mailbox? If so, you most likely know what I mean when I say that I wanted one of everything. Yes, I wanted orchards ... and all kinds of berries ... and rhubarb ... and perennial herbs ... and grapes ... and nut trees ... and ... and basically anything edible that would grow.
You would think that if you had the land and could spare the money, the rest would be easy. Instead, it took a lot of planning before we could even order. We needed to choose tree varieties for disease resistance and pollination purposes, so we chose and re-chose until we were finally satisfied. Thankfully, our son Todd was helping as Larry would become overwhelmed and go off and do a house project instead.
Choosing where to plant our dwarf trees wasn't easy either. Deer roam, water, and even give birth on our property, so we decided to fence in 20-by-30 feet to 6- to 8-feet-high beds, as deer don’t jump into such small enclosures. Then where to place the beds? There always seemed to be a hindrance to a good place, and that hindrance was usually a tree shading the area. Besides that, our land is low, and we were taking a chance because frost settles in low-lying areas. Our hopes were that if we planted enough varieties and in variable locations, some were bound to live and produce. It would break my heart if that didn't happen.
We placed our order. The shipment would arrive in April at our city home, and we would need to transport it to the farm. In the meantime, each time we went to the farm, we packed our “blue truck” Honda Accord to the ceiling with fencing material, and started installing five new beds. Larry and I were proud to learn something new, and could now say that two city people knew how to install fence. I also learned that I didn't like to install fence! One bed was intriguing, but five? There was way too much noise when Larry pounded in the poles. It was definitely not my thing.
Building fence: Todd came for the weekend and is helping Larry build another bed. I wanted to do it, but I had to take the photos! :)
Quote: “Do not be afraid to go out on a limb ... that is where the fruit is.”
My story starts in 1969 when our oldest son, Perry, had a seizure on his right side in first grade. This happens to children sometimes, nothing to worry about, and he was put on medication. He did so well that after two years, the doctor said he should be able to go medicine free after his next six-month checkup. Then it happened. The seizures resumed and continued with such frequency,- that he needed too much medicine to keep them in check. When I look at pictures of him during that time, with dazed eyes, it just makes me cry.
It is probably hard for you to imagine a time when Perry’s needed medical equipment, that we now take for granted but complain about the cost, was not available. I sometimes think about how different Perry’s life would be if they could have caught the tumor early, but of course, we can’t go back in time. Finally, we asked our doctor to call Mayo Clinic. I was in the hospital giving birth to our fourth child when we received notice that Perry was accepted, and he and his daddy drove there in early December.
Dye was again injected into Perry’s arteries, but this time the tumor had grown enough to move a large blood vessel out of place, and he was diagnosed. The tumor was removed, but there were still what we call “feelers or roots” left in his brain. Later, he would need around 30 cobalt treatments in hopes to destroy those.
I received the news of the surgery and soon left our month-old nursing baby and two other children at home and flew to be with them. If you have to go to Mayo Clinic, the month of December has its benefits. Although we had the heartbreak of the unknown prognosis, we continued on like zombies doing our Christmas shopping in between the 15-minutes-every-four-hours-visits, we were allowed in intensive care.
The Christmas spirit of the place was hard to ignore when beautiful Christmas music was playing, and the many decorations which included a donated elaborate gingerbread house. There were visits from celebrities bringing gifts, and a Christmas party put on by the staff that Perry was able to attend. I have a mental picture of a large room full of children in all kinds of conditions. Many arrived in wheelchairs or beds, and I saw the same myriad emotions that I felt in their parent's faces. I don't seem to have the words to fit the feelings of such a contrasting time, but as I said, it was the Christmas we remember the most. Oh, and we made it home in time to put up a tree and celebrate as a family! Such a time is also when we discovered what friends and neighbors are made of – good stuff.
The tumor and surgery left Perry with a weakened right side, so he walks with a slight limp and basically became left handed. Medication drags him down somewhat, but controls his right side seizures. Later in life, after years of riding his bicycle everywhere, he was allowed to drive. You can believe it was a big day when he bought his first car!
Perry is 51, now. We could write a book on his and our struggles and victories over the years, and he is a trooper. His prognosis was so iffy, such as the one I cried about (his hair might not grow back!) and the fact that he might be retarded after all the cobalt treatments. I’ll skip all the trials and just say he has hair and two master’s degrees. He teaches at Boy’s Town in Omaha Nebraska, mostly tutoring high school youth how to read, and is a wonderful uncle to nine, and a real encourager to many young people.
Perry, age 51. A real encourager to people, young and old.
We just had a wonderful family Christmas as we have grown to 18 members, but Larry and I will always remember the one at Mayo Clinic.