Sunday, September 30, 2012

New and Improved!

Yes, it's true. 

This blog is about to get improved with new photo quality!

Until now, all photos were taken on this 10 year old Kodak EasyShare...

which, if I say so, has been fairly good at producing some nice shots.  However, closeups were hit and miss.  Action shots or distance shots were almost impossible.  As well, the thing eats batteries, so I'd often miss great shots because I'd find myself looking at a dead battery light.
I've been browsing the sales for a while now and talking myself out of spending the money even when I did find a sale.  But today, I found a "deal to end all deals"!  It was meant to be and it's now mine! 

It was kind of overwhelming looking at all the components and manuals in the box when we brought it home.  Now I had to learn how to operate it!

I might have left it in the box for a couple days, if it weren't for techno-hubby going through all the attachments and settings.  So, before he laid claim to it, I grabbed it and headed out into the field to try some quick close-ups of fall's fading flora.

I think there is a lot of potential with this camera.  I have a lot to learn, but I think I have a good tool in my hands.
Tomorrow is October already!  Time to put away the garden tools and find those long johns...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mostly Pictures

This is a bloom on a lovely rescued potted Gerbera daisy just prior to our killing frost last week.  My daughter is an optimistic saviour of all my neglected plants.  She takes  my neglected potted plants to the back yard picnic table and, whatever she does - somehow manages to revive them from brown, parched and wilted stems back into colourful, blooming life.
This year, she also planted sunflower seeds in pots on the picnic table.Her grandmother and I kept explaining to her that you couldn't plant sunflowers in pots - that they needed more soil to support the long stalks.  She persisted with her pots, but, in order to keep her elders quiet, she also planted a lot along the edge of the garden and various spots in the yard.  Guess what?  None of the sunflowers planted in the ground took (I think the chipmunks ate the seeds) but her potted sunflowers grew tall and beautiful.  

Some blueberry scones, just out of the oven. 

 My big boy Junior. 
His best pal, Sadie.
They have been here two months now and have settled both the home and our hearts.  They are very good dogs.
The alpacas are still wary of them.   We don't bring the dogs into the barn or pastures yet.  The dogs will lay and stay on command at the barn door when I do the chores.
Smokey the cool cat is still in shock.  He still hasn't got over the fact that we are letting Mittens (the stray cat) into his house at night. 
We walk with the dogs around the outside of the alpaca pastures usually twice a day to go play ball in the back fields.  The dogs take the opportunity to do their 'business' on that walk.  I'm happy that they are leaving their 'calling cards' for the coyotes to notice.
The dogs didn't seem to know how to swim when we brought them to the lake.  This was very odd to us.  Being in Northern Ontario with access to lakes everywhere - it's just part of life with a dog to take them swimming.  It took a bit of play and convincing, but Junior now enjoys swimming to fetch.  Sadie will only go up to her chest, wait for Junior to go fetch the stick and then try to steal the prize from him before he gets to shore. 

Sometimes you make choices and just hope for the best.  These dogs were a very good choice for us.

Thanks for stopping by to read my blog. I always appreciate reading your comments.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Year of the Humungous Garden

2012 was the YEAR OF THE HUMUNGOUS GARDEN here on our 'clay farm'.  I still planted my wee front yard garden at the house, but we also planted a complete small-sized pasture near the barn.

Then, like people who don't plan their time well, we let nature take over for the most part and tried to react.

I'll admit that we had no idea what we were in for.  We might have guessed by the gaping mouth stunned look on peoples face when they said "You planted that whole area?"

Well, hard could it be?  Our collective grandparents fed their own families from their farm...and like, they likely didn't have a grade school education between them, eh?  Certainly, two successful (over-confident) college grads armed with Google and a library card could easily overcome anything nature threw at us, despite having only a lazy hobbyist approach to any previous food growing attempt.

Well, we've gained an education this summer.

Here's how it rolled out...

Corn - we planted 6 rows of 3 varieties - the one that didn't produce at all was supposedly specially developed for Northern Ontario. "Spring Treat" corn did the best, although here it was a late summer treat.  We ate quite a bit on the cob and I froze quite a lot of kernels.  I had a lot of cobs with uneven, undeveloped kernels and many little cobs that the chickens are now eating.   Next year, our goal is to get bigger cobs with even kernels. 

Potatoes - We planted a lot of potatoes.  We were encouraged by the lovely flowering bushes that came up and talked seriously about building a real root cellar.  Then, we were infested with potato bugs (well, not us but the potatoes).  I tried picking them off but I couldn't keep up (and boy, are they UGLY...horror movie UGLY).  We bought predator ladybugs and followed the directions on the bag...but alas, they flew away.  We tried different organic ideas and even resorted to some spray from the garden store.  It was an epidemic of grand proportion!  I stood in the garden with hubby and said something akin to "Wow...imagine if we had to actually rely on this food to see us through the year!!!" (The previous mentioned 'uneducated' grandparents had large crates of potatoes put up in their cold, dirt cellar every fall.  Hmmmm...maybe potato bugs didn't exist back then...) Anyway, the foilage was toast but we still dug up the wee little potatoes that we love to boil up.  Not the crop we aspired to, but we did enjoy what little we had.

Onions - minimal success.  I think weed control would have helped.

Purple Prince Turnips - I picked, cooked and froze quite a few of these, but they were smallish, hot tasting and not at all like the orange-fleshed kind of turnip I prefer.  Also, something enjoyed nibbling the top of the turnip when it started showing at the ground level.  Next year, I'll plant a different kind.

Radishes - Boy, we had a bonanza of radishes.  And you's not easy to find radish recipes.  Why is it that the stuff that does well isn't the stuff you can preserve?

Spinach - We had lovely spinach for a long time.  I didn't replant for continual summer growth.  I didn't get on top of things to freeze spinach and keep the young growth coming.

Carrots - minimal success.  Weeding will help, but our clay soil is also so compacted the carrots were very tough to pull out.  What we have had was tasty though.

Cucumbers -   We've had a few cucumbers but considering the amount we planted, they weren't successful.  Something else out in the garden ate a lot more and left the bottom skin on the ground.  (groundhogs? )  We've had more cucumbers in the past week than all summer, so whatever was eating them may have moved on.

Beets - Total FAIL.  Some colourful beet tops but only little dried up roots.

Yellow Beans - I love fresh yellow beans and so does my family.  I've grown them in my wee garden and in containers on the deck, but I've never grown enough.  So, this year, I planted a my wee garden and in the HUMUNGOUS garden.  A LOT.  Then, with the dry spring, and dry early blossoms came.  I thought the bean train had passed me by.  A bitter disappointment, indeed.
Then, came the rain.  Then, came the blossoms.  Then, came the beans.  And more beans, and more beans, and get the idea.  We ate a whole lot of boiled beans which we love and I blanched a whole lot of beans which will be great in the winter.  Honestly, the snow may fly before I want another yellow bean on my plate.  I hate to admit it but a lot of beans died in my garden because I couldn't keep up.

Swiss Chard - Did pretty well.  I don't love swiss chard but I understand it is one of the most nutrient rich foods in the garden.

Peas, Soy Beans, Lettuce - Total failure.  I suspect soil condition problems for this.  I've grown lettuce successfully in my wee house garden which is of nice, aerorated top soil.  Next year, I'll keep the lettuce in that wee house garden or containers.  We can only eat so much lettuce anyway.

Zucchini - I am destined to be a zucchini farmer.  This stuff took over (see earlier post here).  We ate zucchini in many different forms and I froze a lot of shredded zucchini.  We sold zucchini, gave it to friends, wrapped it as a birthday gift for co-workers, left it on random doorsteps and almost got arrested trying to sneak it into someone's gymbag at the YMCA.  I have avoided that end of the garden since mid-August...I know they are out there still.  And for whatever I took from the garden, there were twice as many that were half-eaten by some scavenging creatures out there (groundhogs? birds?)

Acorn squash - so far, so good.  Something is eating some of it, but leaving me enough.

Tomatoes - This was a great year for tomatoes.  We had our first frost last night, Sept 15th, so many have had time to ripen (and I covered the plants last night, so hope more will ripen).   Usually, I grow green tomatoes but only a few red.  This year was so warm, I even have tomatoes on plants that grew from last years late tomatoes that fell from the plant and rotted into the ground.  Rare in this part of the country to have tomatoes from seeds that haven't been started indoors.
Pumpkins - If all continues well, I will have about ten or so jackolantern pumpkins.  Currently, they are dark green, so with orange blotches.

So, it's been a learning experience.

The most important lessons are...
1.  Our soil isn't totally useless.
2.  The pump and hoses were a good investment this summer of little rain. 
3.  Weed control matters. 
4.  We are capable of growing food. 
5.  We have a lot to learn. 
6.  It takes time to harvest without being overrun. 
7.  Friends really appreciate your produce.
8.  Growing food for ourselves is a fun and rewarding family hobby.
9.  My kid has the entrepreneural spirit (she's already planning next year's sales).

I follow some blogs from some seasoned market farmers and the general conversation has been that it's been the toughest growing year for many decades.  So I take heart in that.

All this greenery will go back into the soil when we till it under for preparation for next year's garden.

To try next year:

1. I'll be propping up the beans - I saw a great idea to use cattle panels from Leigh at 5 Acres and a dream.  I learn a lot from her blog.
2. Try companion gardening - I knew about this, I just didn't plan it.  I'll check those books out of the library this winter.
3.  Use weed barriers.  Reality is that I'm not going to be out there weeding that large lot by hand.  The plan instead will be to use something like the alpaca fleece throwaways and cardboard as garden felts/weed barriers.
4. Have the plan for excess - which includes having the recipes ready, a sales plan and a giveaway plan to the soup kitchen or food bank.  (Part of the problem is that this food needs to harvested and preserved during the hottest part of the summer when I'm not wanting to boil or cook in the kitchen - I'll have to think about this)

Learn and improve.