Saturday, September 30, 2006


New bed with buckwheat

My poor mother tripped on the hem of her bathrobe, fell, and broke her nose. She had to have surgery yesterday. She is here now, and feeling a lot better. Better enough to babysit for days on end as I go out and garden!! Shameless of me, I know; I just know that frost is going to hit in another two weeks or so, and there is so. much. to. do.

Of course, though, it is raining. Again. And rain is scheduled, again, all weekend.

Time to get out the waders.

Friday, September 29, 2006

We (heart) our birds

Landscape with chickens

I had been warned by friends before we became parents that "you will not be able to imagine what life was like before." Hmmf. I DO. I slept more, certainly; most of my disposable income went toward ME and my shoe closet, and life was in general a bit simpler. Simpler is not better, however.

But I do not know what we did before we got these chickens. They are so damned amusing, among other things. They in general have more good habits than bad. (Pooping on the back deck and moving every inch of mulch on every inch of garden bed qualify as the latter, but even these things are surmountable.) They are so good natured. They are always delighted to see you. Their noises, even their egg-passing whoops, are endearing.

And what have they done for the farm? Well, you get so used to seeing them out of the corner of your eye. You will just look out any window and there they will be, chasing their crickets. It's so calming. So...pastoral.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thinking ahead

Yesterday was a great day for the gardens as far as our checkbooks were concerned. I received the load of wood I needed to complete the raised beds at both the greenhouse and the new beds in the garden proper, and Tom went to Holland. Holland, Michigan, that is.

Tom and his mom went shopping. She lives in a town about 15 minutes north of us, and about a half hour further up the lake from her town is Holland. Yes, THAT Holland, of the Tulip Festival, and the place where everyone's last name starts with DeXxxx or VanDerYyy. So they bought some bulbs from here. I gave him a general idea, but not a budget; he came home with well over 200 bulbs. We'll be busy planting soon, it seems.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ulterior motives

Our kid goes to a pretty hep school. It's a Montessori school and it is on 10 acres. It has a farm of its own. Guess who its new farm maven is? Yup. Me. I am now the schoolmarm for two sheep and a bunch of chickens (who're actually future chickens, or "eggs with potential," sitting in an incubator in the school's lobby).

You KNEW I had my price, didn't you?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There's a parable in this I am sure




From one (not so) little seed comes a benchful of birdhouse gourds. These seeds were badly composted; one sprouted, I thought it was something else and allowed it to grow, and then whammo it's gourdville around here. And they do work as birdhouses, as the parent plant attests.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Pathetic harvest

The above is the total grapes pulled off of the old vines this year. It represents approximately 1/44th of what we picked last year.

We had a very late frost, and the grape blossoms were badly hit. I feel awful about the rest of the county (grapes are one of the big crops here). This frost also got my lovingly coddled okra, broccoli, cauliflower, and some tomato seedlings. The wisteria also got fried. Ah well.

So we drank the whole quart of juice squeezed from the harvest last night and this morning. Num. No jam this year, though; guess we'll have to hold on to those quarts downstairs.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Idle hands...and backs...

Trench with chickens

One thing I discovered while I was pregnant is how exercise affects my general well-being. I have always enjoyed physical activity, but it took a bad pregnancy for me to see exercise as something I needed for both mental and physical happiness. I really craved that endorphin rush, especially because I otherwise felt so shitty; I walked 3 miles a day over my lunchbreak. And it helped.

I still require a real, and regular, burst of activity. If I don't get it, I am more prone to a bout of the blues and/or crabbiness. So I try to incorporate a little aerobic activity into every day. Mostly, this means turning the compost piles, but the trench warfare I took on around the garden yesterday is another example.

And considering the trench has been reexcavated, and the compost piles have been turned, AND it is another rainy day, I wonder what the hell I am going to do with myself today.


here sat the child across from me as I typed this up. You can't really see her runny nose or the blue from the marker on her lips. She had just made me find a pencil for her, as the crayons and markers didn't cut it. "I don't want to draw, I want to write," said she.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rain is ruining my copious plans

Wow! So much dampness. I have had to dig a trench around the low side of the garden to divert the overflow. Where my garden is is where there has always been the kitchen garden...we're talking 90 or so years. And there has always been a depression, a swale, on that low side. Hmm. I guess I know why. On occasion, there is a wet year, like this one, and that clay soil just can't keep up.

But hopefully it will stop raining long enough for me to plant the big box of garlic from Filaree Farm.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy vernal equinox

Wild asters

Okay, I cannot deny the approaching new season. The night before last, I carried my daughter outside to walk the dog, and we saw our breath for the first time. We saw bright stars (meaning it would be chilly that night) and heard the yips of the coyotes. Their call-and-response routine is really not that common; I probably have heard them only a couple dozen times since we moved. But their calls were heard much more easily through the cool, cricket-free air.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog... brag about my husband.

This is the cover of the latest All-Story magazine, a literary publication that specializes in short fiction. Tom's work is featured in it; actually, 39 of his images are used to illustrate the fall issue. Zoetrope: All-Story was created by Francis Ford Coppola, and its guest designer for this issue was Chip Kidd, who's kind of THE go-to guy, book design-wise.

Go pick up a copy at your local bookstore. Here's a link for you, too. ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


How can it be autumn if my potatoes are still blooming? I mean, they're usually shriveled up and yellow by now.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Chopping therapy

Fallen sunflowers

Sunday was a day spent in the garden, though I wouldn't call what I was doing "gardening." I spent some time cleaning up, moving compost heaps around, and building new beds...all necessary pre-winter tasks.

One thing I did was put an end to some of the recumbent sunflowers knocked over by the rainstorms a few weeks back. I truly worship my compost piles, and will do all I can to aid in their quick maturation and general happiness, so that means I tend to put only small things into the compost heaps. Fallen sunflower stalks are big things. SO I got out my machete and a 2x10x30" "cutting board."

As a vegetarian, I am required to do a lot of chopping, and it is something I love. I consider the 20" machete an extension of my kitchen love. So I put on my safety goggles and chopped those thick stalks into small pieces. And yes, Virginia, it is immensely therapeutic.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


So we trotted over to the farmer's market a couple of towns away again yesterday. I picked items that I seem to always run out of (carrots, onions) and some more things I can't seem to grow well (melons). But, in general, this is a VERY MODEST farmer's market. The banjo/washtub/fife band attested to this modesty.

Then I got to thinking aloud on the ride home: Hey, maybe WE can have a space at that farmer's market. Just think of all that lettuce we grew that went to waste this year, and the vast quantities of tomatoes we have. All this bounty even when I consciously planted only "enough" for our general consumption. Tom said it was a good idea, and that he could sell birdhouses and other lovingy crafted items. He said its proceeds could support my gardening habit. At least, it could make it self-sustaining.

But I was thinking about this. I mean, what is it in me, a competitive drive? How IS it that I have always seen things and thought, hey, I could do that. That couldn't be that hard. I could learn that. And, more importantly, I could do that BETTER. I don't think it is a particularly admirable trait, but it certainly is one that is very much a part of who I am.

So I am looking at next year's garden plan again. CAN I squeeze a couple more bushels of food out of it per week?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

On parasitism

Manduca quinquemaculata hosting the pupae of Hymenoptera: Braconidae

It is with some sick joy that I normally dispatch tomato/tobacco hornworms like the ugly mug above to the eager beaks of our chickens, but I stop when I find one being used as this guy is. It appears that, in the world, there are parasites who spend their whole lives under the gracious care of their hosts, and there are parasitoids, who simply stay for a short visit. These braconid wasp pupae are the latter. They will use this hornworm up, hatch, and go lay eggs on more of them, killing them all in the process.

Sorry girls: no gross green snack today.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Asparagus fronds wearing some dew

Cooler weather brings fog off Lake Michigan. This happens a lot in the sping and fall. Today, most schools were delayed 2 hours because of low visibility.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Frog Hill

Our little fish pond is really a frog pond. What I never considered is that its garden would also be a frog garden.
This is the pond and garden
Do you see the frogs? Look closely.
Here they are. Altogether, we have about 15-20 of these guys.
And this is the perennial I have been the most pleased with at the pond: it is a malva. It has been in bloom all summer.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fungi among-i

Can you find the mushroom in this picture? It's almost a foot tall.

Tom's off the mower for a while yet until *another* part is ordered. With all this rain, including almost 1" last night and more falling now, I suppose this isn't such a bad thing for the mower, the grass...and the mushrooms. The amanita mushrooms (the toadstools) are HUGE. Puffballs too are looking like so many lost softballs (both Chicago-sized and smaller) that can be seen from the house hundreds of feet away.

But the good news? It's too early for porcini mushrooms, and I am hoping the disabled mower lasts long enough for me to make a good harvest!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Jury duty!

nasturtiums amongst the tomatoes

Yep, I had jury duty this morning. My number wasn't called, though I guess I potentially could be pooled again later in the month. I don't mind it; I think of all the poor schlubs around the world who do not have our (flawed) system and I am humbled by it all. So I will serve, if asked. It is a civic duty, after all. And I am asked so little.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fear of commitment

I have huge issues regarding the veg garden's new fence.

For one, I consider it a huge irony that the animals I am trying to keep away from its riches are DOMESTIC ONES. For the first year I had the thing, many people said, well, aren't you going to fence it in? What about rabbits? Deer? Raccoons, badgers, groundhogs, squirrels, chipmunks? Well, I haven't had a visitor that hasn't been a biped. Seriously. Chickens and people have only two feet.

Secondly, I dunno. I liked the limitlessness of that fence-less garden. OH give me a home where the buffalo roam and all that. The garden is a square, with raised beds arranged around a central area (can't help it but I am an architect so it must be wacky like that) with spokes radiating from it. It's a form that suggests no limits.

But I guess I am glad I chose deer fencing. Except for the supports (fenceposts), it is invisible from 40' away. The reason you can see it so well in the photo is because it is covered with dew.

But commitment? I literally threw it up in 2 hours one day. It needs another 5 to be really secure, functional, long-standing. I even had a hard time on Monday simply fastening the fencing to the posts. It was a matter of will, not ability. I even had those magical zip ties to aide me, but no. Commitment issues all around. I haven't even made proper doors to the place yet.

But hey, the chickens are out.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Rainy Sunday = food thoughts

Our digital camera has been causing us some woe lately. Considering it is a rather spendy model and my husband is a photographer, I have a feeling my posts are going to be filled with archived photos as opposed to the new and noteworthy until we can either replace the camera or have it fixed.

The butter is fabulous. I put the raw milk in a quart mason jar and shook it into butter: a process that took about an hour and a half. The buttermilk was used in whole-grain pancakes this morning, with the butter, eggs and blackberry syrup from the farm. We have M's great-great-grandmother's butter churn at my mother in law's house, just waiting for us to come and pick it up to use next time.

Yesterday we did a local scavenger hunt for produce and other goodies. We hit a farmer's market two towns over to get some things I have had little success in growing here, namely, cabbage and melons. We sampled some baked goodies and got a couple of names of grass-fed meat producers for Tom's upcoming fall and winter meat eating. Our milk supplier is also a pastured chicken/turkey farmer, so Tom picked up a few whole birds, one of which he slow roasted on the grill with sage, rosemary and thyme stuck under its skin and whole garlic in its cavity. I even tasted a tiny bite and it was indeed divine, or near enough.

I put a lot of food up for winter raids, too, having rescued the pressure cooker from the basement. For the first time in a long time, you can actually see the ground in parts of the garden: I cleared a lot of the beds of their drying beans and have planted cooler-season crops like lettuces, spinach, and lots of Asian greens like pak choy, mizuna, tatsoi and mustard. I also planted fall peas and favas. Things are poking up from the ground now and it is like spring all over again.

Some of my favorites are ripe for the harvest, though won't be saved for later: enjoy me now, those lima beans are saying; savor my taste and remember me, says the basil. The beets miraculously taste just as wonderful after being canned, a fact which has me thanking the gods of Beta Vulgaris. And the eating tomatoes: Wow. And the carrots. Sigh.

But this cold rainy day makes me think BREAD and SOUP so I may actually recon the pantry and see what I can clean out. A nice minestrone? Some potato/leek? How about a lentil/kale? And that butter, of course, needs something hot and steamy to be put on.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tomato lust

Striped Romans: my pride and joy

The Mother of All Colanders and I have had a busy week. Right now, 6 pints of beets are cooling, and the pressure canner is spitting with its 5 pints of tomato soup. So many tomatoes, so little time.

When the going gets tough, though, the tough make ratatouille. And for the second time this week. The kitchen is wonderfully stinky right now with roasting red peppers.

Tonight, Tom gets to try his organic free range local chicken from the place where we get our raw milk. I am going to attempt to make some butter from that milk tonight when I watch a movie.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Still damp

End of summer = high morning dewpoint

The one good thing about all this rain is that the land is so very green for this time of year. I could do without the mosquitos, though. The rain foretells a good autumn color show, right?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

On arachnids

Our daughter is going through her Charlotte's Web phase. Mine has lasted 41 years, so maybe hers really isn't a phase. August and September are certainly spider season, and we found this little cutie in the veg garden hanging out with the lima beans and cosmos.

When I was planting out the fall broccoli on Tuesday (sans camera) I disrupted a beauty who was easily 2" long (legs stretched out, of course). I say "she" because her back was bristly with little babies. Though I suppose it COULD have been dad toting them around...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Maude: "Not happy."

We did two things to piss off the birds yesterday. One, I fenced them out of their beloved veg garden and compost heaps. And two, we made them new nesting boxes. You are supposed to have one nesting box per 4-5 birds, but there have been times when the girls had to wait. So we made more for them. Here is the new setup:

And here is their response this morning:

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More rain today, yesterday, tomorrow...

We have found something else that likes all this rain. This is an Amanita mushroom. Poisonous. As you can see, they can get pretty big. I conscripted our toddler Saturday to be used for scale in the photo below. These things are appearing about 3 weeks earlier than usual.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Plans afoot

Newly tilled bed. (I need more dirt, too.)

I hope to be able to get in the garden most of Labor Day tp do my own laboring. I have decided the chickens are no longer wanted in the veg garden, so I purchased 200' of 5' tall deer fencing to keep them out. This means I get to put in 3 more large raised beds (two 3'x32' and one 3'x45') along its interior periphery.

We shall see if their bloodlust for the garden is stopped by a 5' fence. Seeing as they can fly, I may have to resort to more dire means. In the interim, though, this should be a quick project.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Food blogging


We have an esteemed visitor here this weekend, so I have stepped it up a notch, cooking-wise. In general, we eat from the garden all summer and fall, and it makes up about 75% of my daughter's and my meals and maybe 60% of my carnivorous husband's. In general, the fare is simple peasant food like garlic soup, simple basil/tomato sauce on pasta, and the odd egg-based dish like a quiche or pasta or crepes.

Here is the garden-based fare for this evening:
Beet salad with blue cheese crumbles
Soupe au Pistou
Zucchini Bread (not the sweet kind) with homemade herbed yogurt cheese
Corn from down the road
Barbecued peaches
Red Arrow Red wine from Tabor Hill Vineyards in Buchanan (15 miles)
White Demi-sec from the same
Bell's Oberon from Kalamazoo (45 miles)

Tomorrow, we shall break our fast on:
Roulade with Tomatoes and Herb Yogurt Cheese
Zucchini bread with either grape jam from our farm or strawberry jam made with berries from down the road

These are the stats, location-wise, for the non-farm fare included:

Off farm:
Raw milk from an undisclosed farm in Buchanan (it is not exactly legal to sell raw milk, I am told) from which I made yogurt and then the yogurt cheese
Blue cheese goes with the shredded beet salad. Goat cheese would work well, too
Peaches, blueberries and corn from down the road
Organic whole-wheat flour from "the Midwest" which is about as much detail as the store people would say
Salt and pepper and olive oil in the soup

Soupe au Pistou is modified from Aug 06 Food and Wine
Zucchini bread is from Bread for All Seasons by Beth Hensperger (San Francisco: Chronicle, 1995)
Roulade base is from the bible, er, fabulous Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (worship her) (New York: Broadway Books, 1997)

Friday, September 01, 2006


Many in the garden blogosphere are yapping about The End Of The Season. To this I say Fie, go out and look around! Frost hasn't blackened our doorsteps yet! Now, who ARE these nattering nabobs of negativity, I ask myself, and go and hurry to my ca. 1961 edition of Organic Gardening for a first-frost consult. Folks in Duluth? Guess what, first average frost there is 9/30. Certainly, the calendar has turned over to September, and the new school year will start and all those summer linens shall be put away for the season. There is much to be harvested, and much to be done, and much (thankfully) to be enjoyed yet out of the veggie garden. The flower beds are looking maybe not quite in the pink of bloom, but it is at this time that the annuals are picking up the ball and running with it, color-wise.

However, even my jaundiced, sun-soaked eye has noticed the following:

Yellow on the low sumacs
Purple on the grapes
Goldenrod! LOVE it! (seriously, it is my favorite color)
Wild white asters tall and blooming
Fluff/pantaloons on the dog
The depth and amazing fecundity of the dahlias
A blanket on the bed and socks on my feet
A shirt on my shirtless husband
Sunset at an earlier time than I think possible

Note to self

The only tall and unsupported thing that didn't fall over in the garden due to all the rain? The popcorn. It has finger-like roots that dive deep into the subsoil.