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Old Dog, New Tricks

Harvest Festival: The Cornucopia of Fall

Mary ConleyDear friends,

When I was growing up, our small town of Washta, Iowa had fall harvest festivals to raise money for the Methodist church. I remember the first time I attended and the excitement of the evening. However, while the grownups were probably interested in all the donations and money being raised, I was completely in awe of the auctioneer. I knew this local young man, and I couldn’t believe my ears! How did he do that?!

After spending this summer at our hobby farm, I am experiencing some of the excitement I felt at those fall festivals. I know the energy in the town hall was from far more than listening to an auctioneer. For the farmers and gardeners, that festival was the sum of the end of long days of hard work, watching the skies for needed rain and fear of hail, and bringing in a good harvest. Most of all, it was thankfulness.

Garden Gate
Through the garden gate.

Now is the time we gardeners assess the growing season and plan for the next year. Since picking June bearing strawberries seems a long time ago, I like to make a list, somewhat in order of the harvest, so Larry and I fully remember what our hard work accomplished.

Cornucopia/A Horn of Plenty/The Bounty of the Harvest

• Asparagus
• Strawberries
• Rhubarb
• Gooseberries (Didn't make jelly this year. Still had some.)
• Lettuce (4 types) (Wonderful! We had salads about five days a week for two months!)
• Spinach
• Radishes
• Sugar snap peas
• Beets
• Swiss chard
• Kale
• Cucumbers
• Tomatoes
• Peppers
• Blackberries (Didn't produce this year.)
• Mullberries (Wonderful!)
• Peaches (First year for them, and then the raccoons ate them.)
• Carrots
• Zucchini
• Corn
• Green beans
• Cantaloupe
• Pears (305 and about 30 little ones. Dried pears are the best!)
• Cabbage
• Sweet potatoes
• Potatoes
• Acorn squash
• Butternut squash
• Sugar pie pumpkins
• Jack-o-lantern pumpkins (Time to decorate the front porch!)
• Basil
• Chives
• Sage
• Raspberries (Still producing)
• Apples (Almost ready)

Gardening is such a wholesome activity. Not to mention the wonderful, nutritious, organic food. No, pulling weeds isn’t fun, but watching the food mature, eating it fresh from the garden, and processing it for the winter is so rewarding.

Soon it will be time to light the fireplace and the spiced candles. Halloween and Thanksgiving will be fun, and slower and relaxing times are ahead. Life is good. 

Cute Raccoons, Peaches, Sweet Corn, Mulberry Trees, and Reality

Mary ConleyDear Friends,

Maybe this post is only for farm people. Definitely not for those of you who are against the killing of animals. I was raised on a farm, but have lived most of my life in the city. I became soft. Actually, I never did like killing animals, although I once yanked plenty of heads off chickens before my mother and I dressed them. It doesn't mean I liked doing it. It means I liked eating Mom's fried chicken!

This is our eighth summer on our hobby farm, and I can tell you just how the softness changes to "I'll kill that stinking raccoon if I get a chance!" It began when our son, Todd, had a large field garden with a tall wire fence to keep out the deer, with added chicken wire around the bottom to keep out the rabbits, and added electric wire to keep out the raccoons. Even that wasn't fool proof. Raccoons may be cute, but they are also smart and destructive.

Raccoon trap 

After Todd moved, Larry made a special trip into Kearney and bought four live traps. Then he had to assemble them. They didn't work that well. Often the bait/food would be gone but the trap hadn't sprung. The raccoons wiped out our last planting of sweet corn that year.

Jumping ahead to this year. Last week, Larry was dusting our orchard with diatomaceous earth — an organic substance used to get rid of insects — when he noticed peaches on the ground. He looked up into the tree and right into the eyes of a raccoon. Startled, he glanced around in the tree and there was another one. He hurriedly drove the tractor to the house to get the gun. Then he made the mistake of driving the car back, which scared them off. Or maybe looking at him scared them off! Giggle! Larry thought they had come into the orchard over the fence, but then he saw four young raccoons high-tailing it out from where they had dug under the fence to get in. They were gone before he realized it.

Now, that was the raccoons' first offense, and it was a serious one. You see, the late frosts and freezes had always kept us from getting peaches, and finally, THIS year when they grew, the raccoons ruined them all. Every time I think about it, I get mad.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about our beautiful, young mulberry trees. Well, a raccoon (or raccoons), climbed the wooden corral fence next to it, swung over the wire fence into the tree, and broke two significant branches, plus some smaller ones. Then, not being able to get back out, it dug under the fence. Offense number two, and, boy, was I mad again. There are many, many wild mulberry trees not far away with mulberries all over the ground. Why did they need to wreck our tree?

Will there be a third offense? The pears are almost ripe. Then we have four short rows of sweet corn of two varieties in one of our fenced-in garden beds near the house. We have already started picking from it, and there should be enough for several meals and a few packages for the freezer. I'll be so upset if they ruin some of it. Especially since Larry has determined he will not plant any again if they do. But I have hope, because we learned something.

Raccoon trap

As I mentioned earlier, the four live traps rarely caught a raccoon. The food/bait would be gone, but the trap wasn't sprung. It wasn't the trap's fault, or how Larry set it, as we thought. The little buggers reached in from the side and pulled out all the food. (fish flavored dry cat food) Every last crumb. Larry called Animal Control and was told to cover the cage, except for the entrance. Then they would have to go in to get the food. Why didn't we think of that?! So far, in the last few days, Larry has shot eight.

Did you think he would take the raccoons to another place and release them? The humane thing to do? Some people use live traps with that in mind. I have read it isn't always humane, as animals often die in their new surroundings anyway. It just makes you feel good. In fact, I don't see anything humane about the live trap, since the raccoon goes berserk in there and claws the covering and ground to pieces until Larry gets up in the morning and puts him out of his misery. Sometimes they even ruin the trap. The neighbor boys also use the foot trap. When the animal reaches in to pick up the food, the trap grabs its paw and holds tight. I imagine they go berserk trying to get loose in that type, also.

No, I don't like it either, but I guess you would have to walk in my shoes. Rather, crawl in my knee and toe prints as I plant the sweet corn by hand, and pull the weeds on my hands and knees. It wasn't that easy for Larry to prepare the ground, either. It becomes all out war. We have no mercy.

The vultures get to eat.

The Abandoned Farmhouse

Mary ConleyDear friends,

I may have mentioned before that our hobby farm consists of a house surrounded by a barn, other outbuildings, and a little land cut off from the rest of an old fashioned farm. We were told there was a time when you could drive down our road and see many such places. A farmer and his wife not only had crops, but raised a variety of animals and most of their food. There would be milk cows, pigs, chickens, and gardens. Oh, and a clothesline.

The scene has changed here in southwest Nebraska, and although there are still homes, we often see abandoned houses here and there. At first, I found the dilapidated buildings depressing and wondered why they hadn't been torn down and cleaned up. I rarely notice them anymore.

Locals seem to have a different view of the buildings. I hear endearing words like, "Oh, that is the old such-and-such place!" They also like to take photos of the abandoned buildings, cars, and machinery and post them on Facebook or Nebraska Through The Lens. Friends who once lived in this area join in on the reminiscing in their comments. "Oh, I remember when ..." or "I once had a car just like that!"

As I mentioned, I rarely notice these buildings anymore, but this week we were returning from shopping and Larry said, "Did you see that?" He stopped and backed up. One of the abandoned houses has been been reclaimed. New residents have moved in and are very friendly.

Old farmhouse and cattle

Old farmhouse and cattle

They came out to greet us. We would liked to have stayed for a chat, but there was the matter of the electric fence between us!

It's called reuse and repurpose!

Carrot Time Fun Time

Mary ConleyDear Friends,

I know. This is the third post I've done on our garden this season. I can't help it. I've had somewhat of a garden many times, but I've never had such a beautiful, complete kitchen garden like this one in my whole long life! It is such a delight to go to it almost daily and pick fresh vegetables.

According to the carrot seed package, today is the day the carrots should be ready. I have been pulling one each day to grate into our salads, and put a few in with a roast this week. But today, ta da, I declared them finished.

Carrots in sink

Half carrots: Do you know about half carrots? Well, I didn't, and I also didn't notice those words on the seed package. So, that is what I planted. Half carrots. As you can see from the above photo, they are short and a little too fat at the top, but really very nice and not misshapen as long carrots often are. They taste just fine, too. Although my soil was dug deep with the Mantis and mixed loosely with sand, I was thinking that half carrots might be the answer for some of you who can't prepare your soil deep enough for the long variety. Just a thought.

Anyway, I was pulling the carrots and snipping off the tops, when Larry saw me and asked if he shouldn't be doing that hard work for me. I said, "No, it isn't too difficult." Then, I got to thinking that I always get the pleasure of the harvesting, and so I told him he might actually enjoy it. I had to smile as I saw from his body language that he really did think it difficult and was about to give a mighty tug! Out popped the carrot from the soil he had so nicely prepared back in May. He smiled and never tired of hearing that little "pop" as the beautiful carrots came out of the dirt. Together we completed the task, as he pulled and I snipped off the tops. Then we carried in our pail of carrots and took the tops to the compost. We not only had a good harvest, but shared a rewarding moment. It was fun.

Mulberries

Mary ConleyDear friends,

We have mulberries! Yes, wonderful mulberries! I'm not talking about the wild mulberry trees in our lower pasture, under which Larry has often stopped the tractor, while mowing, to eat his fill. Then he comes home with stains on the seat of his pants, where the berries have fallen on the tractor seat! These mulberries are from two trees we purchased a few years ago from Stark Bro's Nurseries and Orchards Co. The fruit is dark purple, up to 1 1/2 inches long, extra sweet, and delicious. The trees were also advertised as a good way to lure squirrels and birds away from your gardens.

Mulberries

An advantage of mulberries is that the fruit grows in clusters called drupes, and then individually ripen from mid June through August. This allows us to pick the ripe ones about every other day, or as often as we wish. I have been adding them to our smoothies, and they are as good as the strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries that we usually use. I also freeze them in two cup quantities for future use.

Mulberries are a snap to process. All you need to do is wash them. I always let berries soak in water with a tad of vinegar for a few minutes to kill germs and make any little bugs turn loose, but it isn't necessary. Larry eats the short stem along with the berry, and the Vitamix turns them into part of our smoothies. Otherwise, you could snip them off with scissors.

The sweet flavor is not the only good part. I looked up mulberries' nutritional value and discovered by eating a serving, we could skip our multi-vitamin for the day. They are also an antioxidant powerhouse. One serving has more vitamin C than an orange!

I'll not bore you with a nutritional chart that is long and full of wonderful things, but I do want to mention zea-xanthin, which helps protect against macular degeneration and cataracts, and reservatrol, that important discovery found in grapes and wine. Mulberries also contain compounds that support balanced blood sugar levels, reduce risk of blood clot formation, and relax the blood vessels.

Maybe you should call up Stark Bro's and order a mulberry tree to plant this fall! They are self-pollinating, in case you only have room for one. Our trees are disease free and very beautiful. Yes, you really should order one or two, and BTW, wear disposable gloves when picking and processing the berries, or the stains around your nails will last for days.

Leaves

Trivia: Mulberry trees' large, shiny leaves are fed to silk worms.

Early Garden Rewards

Mary ConleyDear friends,

On a past post called "The Garden of Hope," I shared my feelings about the enjoyment I felt while planting our garden on Mother's Day at our farm. Then I left for three weeks, hoping that the weather and the sprinkler system would be kind to me. They were. Three days after returning, we started eating from the variety of lettuces I planted. I've constantly added to those large, almost daily salads, other nourishing things such as radishes, sugar snap peas, and small kale, Swiss chard,  and beet leaves. This week, we also ate our first beets. 

Have you noticed when our gardens have lettuces, we need to buy cucumbers and tomatoes, and by the time the cucumbers and tomatoes are ready, the heat has bolted the lettuces? At least we always have something growing fresh for us.  

So far, my garden's only enemies have been bugs. I have sprinkled on food grade diatomaceous earth, an organic alternative, several times, and I see the affected plants are now sending up bug free leaves. I have noted to be proactive next year.

 mustard lettuce greens again

Mustard greens: I planted mustard for the first time this year, and we liked the flavor mixed with our other lettuces. However, it was the first to show bug damage.

Garden

My kitchen garden: On the far left, I have a good crop of carrots. Green beans are starting to climb the fence at both ends. We have another bed with various vine plants, and another with potatoes, sweet corn, and sweet potatoes. 

I am so fortunate to have my fenced in kitchen garden, and it makes me happy to be able to view it from the table where we eat each day. It's close proximity also reminds me to get out there and pick the food. Larry and I often discuss the fact that our salads are practically still alive as I pick and clean them just before lunch. Compare this to the produce in the store, which has had such a long shelf life before we actually eat it. Yes, my garden not only helps make me happy, but healthy, Even if you don't garden, I urge you to find a small area, a barrel, etc, to grow your own lettuce. It couldn't be easier or more rewarding.

The Garden of Hope

Mary ConleyDear friends,

How did you spend Mother's Day? Did you go to church or out to lunch? Your young children may have showered you with homemade cards and small gifts. Perhaps your adult children visited, called, or sent cards. I hope it was a happy and rewarding day for you. I remember spending many Mother's Days visiting my mother in her home, then senior housing, and finally the nursing home. I miss her and often wish I could tell her what we are doing on the farm, or ask something about the past. This Mother's Day, I had a wonderful time doing something very special and I wish Mom could have done it with me. I planted the large kitchen garden at the farm.

Larry did the difficult job the day before as he and the Mantis worked in the amendments until I had a gardener's dream of fine, rich, loose soil. Rain was in the forecast to spoil my plans, so I started that very evening, getting as much planted as possible before dark. The rain held off, and Mother's Day morning was cloudy, cool, and calm. Perfect for planting! It was a quiet, pleasant, and fulfilling job with only me and the serenading birds. I finished about 1:00 and it still hadn't rained! Later in the afternoon, Larry and I planted all the vine plants and sunflowers in a different location while working in a refreshing light mist. We finished. Sometimes plans do work out right. Let it rain!

As I planted the garden on such a perfect day, I felt so happy and full of hope. If only everyone could garden and enjoy it as much as I did. I'm experienced enough, though, to know that hope can be dashed with a late freeze, hail, insects or disease. There are occasions when one might wonder why we continue to do it year after year!

I have to leave my newly planted garden for three weeks and place my hope in good weather and a sprinkler set on a timer. Wow! A lot can go wrong. Then there are the weeds. Can you imagine how the weeds will sprout and grow in such a perfect environment in three weeks?

kitchen garden gate

Larry replaced the fence and gate of our 20x30 kitchen garden this spring. A surprised deer visited while I was planting and snorted displeasure of me invading her property.

So, what all did I plant? Well, Larry thinks I planted orange flags because I have them all over marking where one type of vegetable ends and another begins. If I tucked a radish or flower seed in anywhere, it has a flag. Leave it to me to pull out something I just planted thinking it a weed! Mustard greens are my experiment this year, and I'm curious to see if we like the flavor in our salads.

My hopes:

In the kitchen garden: green beans (climbing on the fence), carrots, beets, two kinds of kale, swiss chard, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, spinach, several types of lettuce, cucumbers, zinnias

In a second fenced in bed: cantaloupe, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, sugar pie pumpkins, 1 jack-o-lantern pumpkin, sunflowers

In a third fenced in bed: potatoes, and we still need to plant sweet corn.

Then there are the dependable perennials to give us hope. It has been our best year for harvesting asparagus. The strawberries are blooming and the rhubarb is almost ready. Fruit is setting on in the orchards. The mulberry trees are leafing out. Gooseberries, Russian sage, mint, chives, and horseradish are growing. Next on our to do list is cleaning up the blackberry/raspberry bed.

Yes, it was a wonderful Mother's Day. Did I mention our children called and sent cards? I even received flowers! Have a happy day filled with hope.