What’s Growin’ In the Garden 4

Well folks, it truly is turning out to be a hot summer, isn’t it? Frank has long thought the unraveling of our society would come to pass about this time. The uncertainty of life affects us all in many different ways, even the earth is unsettled and behaving quite different. Gardens and pastures in these parts are not growing anything like they usually do. Some things do okay, not great, but okay. Other standard crops are barely growing or doing anything. I have found ONE squash bug this summer. ONE. By now they are normally here by the hundreds and the plants are dead. Instead, we have had many fewer yellow squash, but the plants are happy.

Today we pulled the beets and planted grocery store red potatoes. Yes, it’s very late to plant potatoes and it’s a toss up whether they will grow in the heat of the summer here. We weren’t going to grow any at all, but feel the need to grow more calories and nutrition.

Old beet patch, one new potato patch

More potatoes between the cabbage & sunflowers

                Here is a look at the rest of the garden.

Parsley in the front, carrots and yellow squash

Sweet potatoes on  stock panels are growing well.

Pinto beans, some are climbing and some are not….

Tomatoes are growing slowly with little production

Purple hull peas after 4 plantings

Okra, barely growing, and it’s mid June

Sunflowers for chicken feed

There are a number of cabbages that survived the worms.

Small pepper plants

Planted Thelma Sanders winter squash by wooden stakes today.

Apple with curculio infestation

I was very hopeful of a good fruit crop this year. Our young plums were loaded with fruit, but each had this little brown mark on it. Every plum dropped and now the apples are slowly joining in. I pick up half a dozen or so every other day as they fall and feed them to the chickens. I found a beneficial nematode that is supposed to help control curculio and applied them below the trees a month or so ago. My research indicates curculios may produce up to two generations per year, so I hope the nematodes are established enough to affect the second generation this summer. I don’t know if there will be any apples left to harvest or not, only time will tell.

Rather dismal outlook, isn’t it? It is definitely a strange growing season. As the COVID19 outbreak grew more serious, we decided to grow more food this year instead of less like we had planned. But the way the garden is performing, we don’t know how much food it will produce at all. If we were truly in dire straits and dependent upon this growing season for survival, it would be a very stressful situation indeed. Well. What if this is it? What if our life does depend upon this harvest?

Folks, we are in perilous times. Do everything in your power to have enough food for your family for the long term. It matters not if you grow one morsel, have food for your family. Do everything in your power to provide a safe environment for your loved ones. Between the virus, the economy, the riots, the anger and hatred, our country is a pressure cooker just waiting for the lid to blow. The tentacles of the enemy are long and well camouflaged. Distance is your friend.

Frank has been saying for many months that it is going to be a very hot summer. The summer is upon us with burning and death. There are a couple of videos at the end of this article that may give you pause. If nothing else, I hope they give you something to think about.

Food. You can’t have too much & without it you are dead.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 6

The days have been so full, Frank’s Tuesday night radio class seems like more than a week ago. It is going very well, good attendance, with more questions coming up all the time. One of his students came by to discuss antennas and towers yesterday morning while I got started on an all day canning spree. We continue to be very encouraged by the interest folks from around our small area are expressing about being able to stay in touch with each other by radio should an emergency arise, short term or long term.

The day before yesterday I harvested all I could from the garden. The tomatoes are finally ripening and taste really good. We don’t have enough to can yet, but we will. The canning spree yesterday included 16 pints of yellow squash in the first canner. It filled up both layers in our canner with some left over that made it into another batch with one pint of green beans and two pints of cowpeas.

After I got that started, I worked over the plums that our friend Grace gave me. They are very sweet and a pretty, dark red. I canned five pints leaving plenty of room for water to make a nutritious juice to drink along with the fruit. 


Next came some minced garlic. I bought nine pounds of peeled garlic. I haven’t harvested ours yet, it’s out there, I just didn’t get to it. Patrice Lewis over at Rural Revolution has a tutorial on canning minced garlic and I wanted to give it a try. I have been using dried minced garlic for years, but wanted to switch to fresh. The problem is I never take the time to peel and chop garlic for our meals, dried was always easier. The house REALLY smelled like garlic last night, so much so that Frank wondered aloud whether people would shy away from us today because we smelled like garlic. Well, no one turned up their noses at us, but we didn’t ask how we smelled either. 

The garlic turned green on top when we added the boiling water to it, but when it came out of the canner it was brown, which concerns me. I had added a quarter teaspoon of citric acid powder to each jar. I read in my canning books that when you can onions they darken and get soft. I hope that is the case with this garlic. We had a little left over that is in the frig which we will use first before we open one of these jars. We’ll let you know how it tastes.

We’ve had another rainy spell with a little over three inches in the last few days, but it looks like we’re in for a hot dry spell for a while. The humidity and heat index have been pretty high and look to go even higher next week. We will have to be extra cautious when we’re working outside.

I’m having a time battling the squash bugs and haven’t spent enough time on my efforts lately. We have lost some plants and if I don’t get out there and fight them some more, we may lose them all. This is another instance of not enough hours in the day.

I have started my mulching project in the garden in between everything else like making another batch of cheddar cheese. We are eating the third wheel and it tastes great. I may have already told you that, I’m not sure. Anyway, the cheese is turning out well, even though there are still a few small holes in it from all the yeast floating around our kitchen. And speaking of yeast, the sauerkraut continues to ferment along over in it’s corner, only needing a little water added to the moat every so often. It’s also time to make bread again, which means I need to get the sourdough starter out of the frig and wake it up for a day or two to lessen the acidity that builds up during storage. 

You know what? I love my kitchen. Not so much the physical aspects or aesthetics of it, just the fact that we have a working, functional kitchen. I like to cook. I love having naturally occurring, healthy foods ‘perking’ away on my counters in the form of cheese, kefir, sauerkraut and sourdough. I like having another bushel basket over flowing with Cushaw squash sitting on the floor that I need to can again. I like fixing fresh food that grew from a tiny seed in the dirt outside my house, that I can pick and cook and serve to my husband. Kitchens are a central, integral part of a home and I like the fact that in this house, where you enter is in the kitchen. Our kitchen is the heart of our home and where most of our living takes place. It’s a busy, happy, productive place. Messy sometimes, since I don’t like to clean near as much as I like to cook, but in our kitchen you will find our ‘home’.


And speaking of the kitchen floor, a big section of it is now covered with eight half bushel boxes of peaches we picked up from a local orchard today. Yes, I talked myself out of buying five bushels and settled for four. The next few days will be filled with more canning, while fighting off a few squash bugs and spreading out more mulch.


The goats are doing well. Cricket has recovered from her worms and scours. She is still a little thin, but is already well on her way back to normal. We had scheduled the vet to come out this week to teach me how to administer the copper boluses, but Frank and I have been fighting sinus issues with all of the wet weather, so we have rescheduled the vet for next week. The day he was coming this week we both had bad headaches and another hours long rain storm would have had us all soaked in the process. I’m glad we rescheduled. I will take pictures and let you know what I learn sometime soon.

Now that Cricket is doing so much better, we have changed back to our original plan of breeding her and One Stripe this month. We backed up the date to July 15th instead of the 1st to give her more time to recuperate. With the hot, 95* to 97* temperatures that are forecast next week, I don’t know if the goats will breed or not. We have had them do so in the past, so we will just have to wait and see.


The greenhouse exterior is almost finished. We still need to settle on which doors we are going to use and figure out some final details on enclosing the roof line and corners. Then the door leading from the greenhouse into the house will be installed. There is currently a house window being covered by the greenhouse. That will be taken out and a door installed in it’s place, with steps leading down to the ground level. The gentleman that we hired to

help with the work is on vacation for a few weeks, and in the meantime, Frank and I will bring our 55 gallon water barrels down from the barn and begin placing them inside. They will be the ‘workbench legs’ we will be using. We will explain more about that once we work out the details of how everything will be set up.

Our adoptive momma hen decided it was time to go back to the flock. One evening when we were feeding and watering she decided to go out into the big pen and visit the rooster, then she walked right back in with ‘her’ babies. The next day she laid an egg in the corner of their pen. That evening when she went out to visit the rooster and the flock she didn’t go back, so now the teenage chicks are on their own again. The young roosters are starting to square off to see who is boss, so it won’t be long before we start butchering them. There are some interesting color patterns developing and we are starting to think about which ones we may keep to replace the current rooster. Once these new young hens are old enough to lay, we will butcher and can the current laying hens, thus renewing our flock and putting more food on the shelf.


The baby chicks are doing well, growing and acting like chickens. When we brought them out to the chicken house they made the ‘teenage’ chicks look much bigger. And the ‘teenage’ chicks made these babies look awfully small. The young babies are learning from their next door neighbors. When I bring out greens for all of the birds in the morning, I put the babies greens right up next to the ‘teenage’ pen which encourages the babies to peck at them. It’s been interesting to watch their interactions.


The pigs are doing fine. They have adjusted to the routine and environment well. Sometimes they complain if I don’t bring them their desired scraps. They squeal at me, and it’s quite funny. One day they even followed me back to the gate complaining. I kept telling them that’s all they get and if they want something to eat they would have to eat what I brought. It was a funny conversation. I had brought them the Cushaw seeds and peelings from the days canning without any whey or milk or other liquids. Guess that wasn’t their favorite meal. They are all growing well and are a good addition to our homestead. So far.

The days seem to be just flying by, and it’s hard to believe we are almost to the middle of July already. As time ticks quickly on, there are so many things we want to accomplish before the fall arrives, the fall of the year or the fall of the world. We can only hope we can work hard enough and fast enough to beat it here. As we watch the financial markets of the world and read as many perspectives as we can on the complexities of our world, we can’t help but know, really know, deep down that time is running out. But that’s okay. We will do all we can, and it will be enough. As we were talking about it today Frank said it’s like he’s been preparing for this all of his life, and it really does seem that way. There have been so many experiences Frank and I have been given that have lead us to this time and place. We are right where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, and if the truth be known, loving every minute of it. No matter how the world turns out, it truly is a great life.

Until next time – Fern

Fire Ants & Aphids

Last summer I mentioned the discovery of the relationship between fire ants and aphids. Fire ants will protect and raise aphids to produce nectar for the ants to eat. The ants will carry the aphids to a plant that will provide nourishment, thus feeding both insects at the same time. I found this to be fascinating even though it can be devastating to my garden crops.  

I hadn’t noticed any aphids at all this year until after I had planted my Cushaw winter squash. I noticed the ants were moving into one of the squash hills, so I sprinkled wood ashes and coffee grounds on each of the five hills. I started checking the plants morning and evening in hopes of keeping the squash bugs at bay that had killed off our yellow squash at the other end of the garden. That’s when I noticed a few ants on the underside of the leaves. Then I realized that the beginning of an aphid infestation was occurring. I also discovered tiny, tiny little winged insects as well. From everything I’ve been able to read, I think these winged insects are the adult aphids, but I’m not sure. If you know what they are, please let us know.

Here is a close-up of the ants pouring out of the ground.

So I put coffee grounds on them.

Here is an ant tending to the aphids. There is one above him by one of the leaf veins.

Here is that aphid, enlarged.

Tiny winged insects. Does anyone know what they are?

Here is one of them enlarged. I think it is an adult aphid, but I’m not sure.

We really enjoy the Cushaw squash and hope to have a decent harvest. It looks like we will have plenty of competition from the squash bugs (I have squished a few each day), ants and aphids. I just hope we win the battle.

Until next time – Fern

Hooray for the Assassin Bugs! – Update

I wanted to post an update to my original post on predatory insects. I have found a new a new bug. I have seen quite a few of these bugs out in the garden, but they don’t seem to be causing any damage. So…I looked them up in my books.
I had a vague idea that it might be a stink bug, which I know is not good for the garden. One of my books, The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, has a great section helping to tell bugs apart that are very similar. Because of the markings on the bug, and the lack of damage on the plants, I have come to the conclusion that this is a Spined Soldier Bug that eats caterpillars and grubs. So each time I see one, I thank them for residing in my garden.

Our assassin bug population is doing very well. There are hundreds, it seems, in our okra patch. I greet them everyday when I see them. We still have a few squash bugs roaming around, but not very many.

A friend asked me yesterday what Daddy Longlegs eat because she has a bunch of them by her porch in her flower bed. Well, I didn’t know so I went to the same book at it said they are known as Harvestmen. They are active at night and eat small insect pests. I had no idea. She also told me she

has a bunch of aphids on her squash so I recommended she go out in the morning and collect some of the Daddy Longlegs and dump them on her squash plants to see if they will eat the aphids. She thought that was a great idea, so we will see how it works.

So before you smash that next bug, find out if they are friend or foe. By the way, those good sized brown spiders that you find in the garden all the time? They are wolf spiders and are another one of your friends. Their diet includes things like flies, mosquitoes, crickets and beetle larvae. There is a whole world of predatory insects that will help us with our gardening if we will just let them.

We are blessed with challenges and solutions in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes we just have to take the time to look closely to find the answers we are searching for.

Until next time – Fern

Hooray for the Assassin Bugs!

Last summer I made one of the most important discoveries of gardening ever! At least for me. Assassin bugs. You see, we don’t use chemicals of any kind in our garden and some years we are just overrun with bugs chomping, chomping and chomping.
Well, last year this really creepy bug came along – and there were lots of them. At first, I squished them. Then I decided I needed to figure out what they were. I had never heard of an assassin bug. 
I read what I could find in my gardening books, then I did an internet search with images. Cute, huh? I found out they are very beneficial insects, so I quit squishing them. And after a while, I decided they weren’t so creepy after all.

For some reason these bugs liked to congregate on a couple of my pepper plants. Across the garden I had a squash plant that was just covered in squash bugs so I thought I would do an experiment. I went out one morning and gathered up about 20 assassin bugs in a jar (I wore gloves, of course!) and dumped them out on the squash plant. I had no idea whether or not it would work, but a few days later, the squash bugs were almost entirely gone.

What a great discovery! Well, this spring, I have been watching for their return. A friend saw a weird little bug on my porch last week that I thought might be an immature or nymph assassin bug so I did another internet search that confirmed that it was. But I still don’t have a lot of confidence in my knowledge and ability to identify some insects.

I know the squash bugs are here because I have seen a few and this morning I began finding their eggs on my squash plants. (See the gloves? I don’t like to touch bugs!)

So I went on a more detailed search through the garden and found and squished about 20 squash bugs. I picked off the leaves that had the eggs on them and fed them to the chickens. 

And then, in the midst of my search, there was that weird little bug again. And guess what? He was eating a worm! Yahoo! The assassin bugs are back!

It’s funny the things we get excited about. I never thought I would be so happy to see such a creepy little bug!

Until next time – Fern