Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We Have Strawberries!

Our new strawberry plants (planted last year) are starting to bear.  This is a week earlier than I've ever had ripe berries before.

The three varieties we're trying are Annapolis, Cavendish and Earliglow.  I did get a few of the Earliglow a couple of days ago and now a few more today.  The harvest today was the first one for the Annapolis.  The Cavendish seem to be a little behind in ripening, so we've yet to sample them.

So far, the Annapolis have the best flavor, by far.  The Earliglow have a good "strawberry" flavor but are a smidge on the sour side compared to the Annapolis. 

These three varieties are June Bearers.  We also planted a small amount of everbearing strawberries, Seascape variety, which are supposed to come in earlier than any of the June bearers, take a rest mid-summer and then produce another crop in late summer after the June bearers are done.

I'm beginning to think it doesn't work that way in northern Minnesota.  The everbearers are just now giving us a couple of berries (paltry harvest shown above), right about at the same time the June bearers are.  Hmmm.  The most disappointing thing, so far anyway, is that when we taste tested the Seascape everbearers, they had almost no strawberry flavor and were kinda "watery."  I've tried growing everbearing strawberries once before without much luck, so I'm not sure why I thought this time around would be different.  (Slow learner, am I?)

Yikes, what IS that?

 Just a selfie of my knees after a day of gardening.  While wearing shorts.  Which I don't do very often because it hurts to crawl around on bare knees.  All of the ugliness washed off in the shower tonight, and I sustained no permanent damage (I'm sure you're glad to hear).  I normally prefer to garden in long pants, but it was so hot today that both Papa Pea and I changed to shorts while the day was still young.  He was doing various jobs, mostly shredding brush and mowing so his knees didn't end up looking anything like mine.

I'm going to try to be very organized and keep track of the quantity (in pounds) of strawberries we get from our various varieties planted.  And will the flavor of the berries remain the same through the picking season?  I suppose that may depend on the rain, sun, temperature, etc. that we get while they're bearing.

Speaking of rain, it started raining again here about 45 minutes ago.  I do wish I could send some of it to those of you who could use it.  Obviously, not to West Virginia though.  My heart goes out to those who lost so much in the flooding.  Makes our frequent rains so inconsequential.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Week Gone By

Lots of rain this past week which has made working in the garden . . . sporadic.  Yesterday we had a storm roll through (again) and two real gully washers came down, one of them accompanied with 1/2" hail.  The hail didn't last long enough to do real damage in the garden.  As far as I can tell.  But I haven't made a close inspection yet.

The toddler geese didn't seem fazed by the heavy rain, just walked in their typical "follow-the-leader" type manner from one spot to another looking a bit puzzled.  I kept yelling at them to go in their house for shelter . . . to no avail.  When it started to hail, they had the sense to bee-line it for the shelter of some pines with low hanging branches.

There was a note on our local Internet community "bulletin board" this morning of someone on a nearby lake looking for two sections of his dock that blew away in the storm.

Now this morning I see we had more rain overnight which definitely means no work in the field garden today.

My potatoes need to be hilled up again.  Along with the rain we've also had unusually hot, humid weather, and the taters have been growing by leaps and bounds.  I can't seem to keep up with them.

The garden is giving us as much wonderful lettuce and salad greens as we can eat.  My big planting of radishes (I love 'em) is coming in with a vengeance.  There are blossoms on the two cherry tomato plants.  The strawberry plants are absolutely loaded with berries but no red coloring is showing yet.  I'm hoping they will start being ready to pick in another week or ten days.

I harvested a bunch of garlic scapes this past week and have a jar of them fermenting on the counter.  Also did a jar of radishes.  It will be into this coming week before we can sample either batch.

There is a young fella in the area this year who is baking bread in an outdoor brick oven and selling it at our small farmer's market on Saturday morning.  I try to bake my own bread regularly kinda/sorta as often as I can but summertime is a hard time to keep up with it so I've been buying bread from him at the farmer's market.  He makes a wonderful ciabatta (my fave) and an all-whole wheat sourdough to which Papa Pea has become addicted.

I took advantage of the stormy weather yesterday to clean house.  Boy, did it need it.  Of course, it always feels sooo good when that task is done and everything is spic and span . . . which seems to last about half a day.

Hubby and I have both been short of sleep lately and were exhausted (so what's new?) last night.  Maybe it was the atmospheric pressure, but we crashed before 9:30 and slept this morning until . . . holy cow, seven o'clock!  Other than having a slight, dull headache (I think from sleeping so hard), I feel great this morning.  Seriously though, we need to start winding down earlier each day (how many kajillion times have we said this?) so we can get to bed earlier.  We're both morning people and would be delighted if we could get enough hours of sandman time each night to arise ready to whip our weights in wildcats (and that's a lot of wildcats) around 5:30 each morn.  Wish us luck.

Well, once this weather settles, we will have lots of weeding, mowing and weed whipping to do.  Speaking of which, we're waiting for my very own weed whip to be delivered.  I can't manage the one Papa Pea uses as it's about 15 feet long (okay, maybe a smidge shorter) and heavy.  So we did a little research and my dear husband ordered one I should be able to handle.  Is he good to me or what?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

First Mint Harvest

Just after sunrise this morning I put on my faithful, old Bean slip-on boots, and squished through the dew-laden grass to my mint patch in the garden.  My mission was to harvest this season's first cutting of mint, when it would be at its optimal best, before the sun hit it.

You see, Papa Pea drinks a big mug of peppermint tea each and every morning after his cup of coffee.  And I figure the best mint we can secure is that grown in our garden.

I hadn't taken the time to dress yet at that early hour so was still in my shortie pajamas and robe.  Not wanting to kneel in the wet grass, I bent from the waist as I made my way around the mint snipping my harvest.  

With a little imagination you can conjure up the sight this afforded to any early morning wildlife.  Does the vision bring to mind those once popular wooden cut-outs of ample-bottomed grandmas bending over the flower bed?  Well, I'm afraid my posture definitely exposed some tender body parts that must have screamed, "Look!  Breakfast!" to a myriad of biting bugs.  Not my most intelligent move of the week.

As I dropped the first cuttings into my bowl, I realized I had neglected to mulch around the plants and our frequent recent rains had splashed mud up onto the undersides of all those purdy, little, vibrantly green leaves.  My bad.  Sigh.

So, back into the kitchen with my bowl full of (muddy) mint where I put it through several gentle washing in cool water.  Then a couple of twirls in my handy-dandy salad spinner (which I couldn't live without) and the mint is now drying on a towel . . . 

. . . before I nip the leaves off their stems and put them in the dehydrator.

Not only does peppermint make good tasting tea, but it has other medicinal purposes.

It's a mouth and breath freshener, promotes digestion, soothes upset stomachs, balms made with a mint base rubbed on the forehead and nose give quick headache relief for some people, it alleviates inflammation and is a natural skin healer.  It reduces respiratory problems and coughs, and is good for asthmatic sufferers.  It's even been used as a stimulant to help with depression and fatigue.  The list of mint's beneficial properties goes on and on.  Makes me wonder why I don't grow an acre of the stuff and use it much more than I do!  To my mind, having your own planting of mint in the garden is a very good thing.

Hmmm, I wonder if it would relieve the itching on my . . . oh, never mind.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Windy Washday

I know it seems improbable, but this is the first Monday (which is my laundry day) of the season that it hasn't been rainy or foggy or so damp I couldn't hang my laundry out on the lines.

Today has been super-sunny with low humidity but . . . WINDY!

Even the towels dried zippy-quick.  The only trick was keeping the pieces on the lines from wrapping around each other in a tangled strangle hold. 

The wind hasn't been very kind to all the little plants in the garden though.  They're taking a beating from the nearly constant 25 mph winds.  Although perhaps it would be worse if they were taller and hit with more of the brunt of the wind.  It's been blowing steadily all day long, and we've had to chase any number of items as they've been blown across the acreage.  One of our newly built chicken (gosling) tractors even got flipped over on it's side.  Luckily all the goslings were out roaming the pasture at the time.  Sure hope the wind dies down soon.  I don't relish the thought of listening to it all night and wondering what is being blown to Timbuktu.

On a sad, serious note, we did have a severe storm blow through the area last night.  Although we had been warned of damaging hail, heavy rain and high winds, most of it went west of us, and we only had an average rainfall.  Some forty miles from us, many trees blew down, roads washed out or were impassable because of the blowdowns.  Unfortunately, one man was killed when a huge pine came crashing down, and two others (a man and a boy) in a different location were seriously injured.  Yes, it was a bad storm, and we feel so fortunate it missed our immediate area.

I have to confess I was a very Nervous Nellie as we sat up way past our usual bedtime listening to the local radio station and waiting to hear the storm was not going to hit us directly as had been forecast.  It's a helpless feeling when nature brings such destructive weather your way.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Why Do I Hill My Potatoes?

A kind reader asked why it is necessary to hill potatoes.  It's a good question and one I've heard asked many times.

Potatoes (the tubers we eat) grow very close to the surface of the soil in which they are planted.  Even though they may have a thin covering of soil, the sunlight that gets through to the forming tubers causes them to develop solanine.  That's the green coloring you sometimes see on potatoes.  And which is toxic to humans in large doses.  (That doesn't mean if I come across a green spot on one of my potatoes, I toss it in the compost.  Most likely I'll cut the green area off and use the rest of the potato.)  But generally speaking, finding potatoes that are green because of the solanine is not a good thing, and renders the potato inedible according to most potato growing experts.

Be aware that the toxicity of solanine affects some people more than others so you do not want the potatoes you grow in your garden to become green.

How to avoid this?  By hilling your potatoes.

Hilling keeps the light away from your developing tubers.  Potatoes form close to the surface of the soil so you want to "bury" them to a good depth.  Also, the more soil you pile around the plants, the more the formation of tubers is encouraged.

When I plant my potato eyes (or sets as they are also called) I go down the row of tilled soil with a broad hand hoe and make a furrow a couple of inches deep.  I place the eyes in the furrow about 12" apart, then using the hoe again bring soil from each side of the furrow over the eyes making a slight mount which I tap down lightly with the flat side of the hoe.  That's all I do until my first hilling.

You can grow potatoes without hilling.  This can be done by planting your potato eyes in a trench at least 7" or 8" in depth and then covering with soil leaving a slight mound on top of the row.  This method, to me, entails much more work both when planting and harvesting (and produces a smaller yield).  When harvesting you literally have to dig down into the (often compacted) soil to get to your potatoes.  If you hill by pulling loose soil up over the growing plants, you harvest the potatoes by turning over the looser soil which is much easier.

You can also grow your potatoes by placing a thick mulch of straw up around the potato plants in the same way you would the soil.  There are two advantages of using this method.  1)  You don't have to "dig" the potatoes at all at harvest time.  You just pull the straw away to gather the potatoes.  And, 2) the potatoes are much cleaner than if they were grown in soil.

Over the years, I've experimented planting my potatoes in both straw and soil.  Each time I've done this I've found the straw mulched potatoes yield only 50% of the quantity of those grown in the soil.

When is the proper time to hill your potatoes if you choose to grow them that way?  (Or when do you pile more straw on the emerging plants?)  Check five different sources on the subject and you'll find five different recommendations.

Although my plants got away from me this year because the rain and muddy soil kept me from working in the garden, I like to do my first hilling when the plants are small . . . about 6" high.  I nearly bury them in the soil I bring over them.

Then my second hilling is done again when the plants are showing approximately 6" more of growth.  The final hilling is done about two weeks later, although by this time the plants are so tall that I have a hard time finding more soil between the rows to use, and it's also hard to keep the soil from falling right back down the steep slope now formed up to the top of the plant.

Other sources say to do your first hilling when the plants are 8"-10" high and a second and final hilling 2-3 weeks after that.

As with so much of gardening, you have to experiment to see what works in your particular soil and climate conditions.  For instance, if you can get potatoes to grow well using the mulch method, what a joy to have clean potatoes straight out of the garden, but if you have a wet year, the mulch makes a desirable environment for the proliferation of slugs, slugs, and more slugs.  (Slugs which will dine voraciously on your potatoes!)

This information certainly isn't meant as "the-end-all-be-all" of why or how to hill potatoes but rather my personal experience I have to offer after many years of successfully growing potatoes.  

Just don't ask me how to grow a full-sized, red, ripe tomato up here near the tundra!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rows in the Garden

Today was another great day.  Not as warm as yesterday, not as sunny, but no rain.  (That's coming tomorrow and Sunday.)

Knowing more precipitation is on the way, I pushed to get as much done in the garden as I could.  And, boy howdy, do I feel it tonight.  I made a simple dinner of hamburgers, 'cause that's about all I could handle.   Now I've had my shower and am in my jammies already at a smidge after 7 p.m.

First on my list of garden tasks today was to get the three potato rows hilled up.  The row on the right are Burbank Russets.  They were the tallest and I had trouble pulling the dirt up around them as much as I wanted.  In the middle are Red Chieftans.  They poked through the soil at the same time as the Russets but haven't gotten quite as tall.

The third row over on the left was planted with potatoes I had left from our crop last year.  I don't even know what variety they are, other than a nice red potato, as they were originally given to us many years ago by a farmer friend about 100 miles south of us.  The harvest they gave us last year wasn't up to expectations so I purchased the two new kinds to try this year besides the old regulars.  I didn't think my old seed potatoes were ever going to come up but, of course, they finally did.  I plan to keep track of the harvest we get from each variety this fall.

These are our June bearing strawberries.  (Which don't bear up here until July!)  They're looking very healthy and have been covered with blossoms, some of which are nickel sized green berries now.

I plant my shell peas on either side of the cattle panels I use for trellises and their tendrils are just now starting to reach up and grab onto the trellises.  It seems they've been slow growing this year.  Or maybe I'm just too eager.  As usual.

Those three bushes in the foreground are the haskap berry bushes.  They're four years old this spring and certainly do grow faster than blueberry bushes.  (Blueberry bushes are behind and then our raspberry patch at the far end of the picture.)  Last year was the first year the haskap bushes produced any amount of berries . . . which the robins enjoyed before we realized what was happening.  (Grrrr!)

This is what the very unripe berries look like right now.  They're about 1/2"-3/4" long and won't get too much bigger but will turn a dark blue like blueberries.

The blueberry bushes have more blossoms on them than we've ever seen.  I can hardly wait for breakfasts of fresh blueberries and cream.  Or fresh strawberries (or raspberries!) and cream.  To my mind, that's the real breakfast of champions!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Totally Sunny Day -- Wow!

Today we put in more work on clearing the area for the new waterfowl winter quarters.

Papa Pea did more chainsaw work.

We ended up with a nice pile of to-be firewood for next year.

Dear daughter was chief in charge of the shredder/chipper operation.  She then took wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow into our little orchard and spread a lovely, heavy mulch under each fruit tree.

What did I do all day?  Sat on the deck and drank iced tea.  It was a great place to be because that ol' sun shining down all day was really HOT!  

Okay, I confess.  I actually didn't sit on the deck all day.  Because our daughter was here to help with the clearing operation, I got to spend the whole day in the garden.  I got the raised beds completely weeded and some planting done in the field garden.  

I think everything in the garden grew a couple of inches with the heat and sunshine after all the rain we've had.  My big pumpkins (planted under hot caps) look to have sprouted nicely, but no show yet for the small pie pumpkins.  Maybe tomorrow?

If it doesn't rain overnight (and it is supposed to be clear -- fingers crossed), I should be able to hill up the potatoes tomorrow.  I'm way late on doing that because of all our rain and our tater crop is going to suffer if I don't get it done PDQ!