Food on the Shelf

Here is what we’ve been up to – adding food to the shelf. We have plans for more to come including cowpeas, chili, tomatoes, tomato sauce, green beans, sunflowers and amaranth. Not everything will end up in jars, but will be on the shelf in some fashion. Food. The essence of life.



These are the best tasting beets we have ever grown.

Green beans – a basic staple

Winnowing amaranth
Amaranth for our bread

Thelma Sanders winter squash

Winter squash and pinto bean harvest

Communication is always essential.
Our first apple crop. These are wind falls.

The tomatoes are being frozen for future canning.
The more food we put on the shelf, the more content we feel about feeding ourselves for a few more months. That’s a great feeling. Enjoy your harvest, whether it be a garden or a grocery store. 
Stay vigilant. Stay away from crowds. Be ready for anything, it just feels near.
Until next time – Fern

What’s Growin’ in the Garden 2

Interesting that I was thinking of doing a garden update today since we had rain forecast. I have some pictures from May 25th and was going to add a few more today. Well, it is raining. We had and inch of rain in five minutes, then ended up with 2″ in about 30 minutes and it arrived with 25MPH winds. Here are some pictures from the porch.

Our creek has extended into the backyard.

North side of the house, water running, now the corn is facing west laying over.

Our new creek through the turnip bed.

Lots of water – this is normally dry

I won’t know if there is any permanent damage for a few days and will let you know about that in the next update. Message for me – always plan for the unexpected. Always…..always.

Here are a few comparisons from the last article. Then pictures and comments about what’s growing out there – or was – or maybe is still growing. Time will tell.

April 22nd

May 25th

We are still using coffee grounds for acidity around some plants, these were for the blueberries. The eggs shells have made their way around the base of all squashes and tomatoes, so these were given to the peppers.



Pinto beans

The pinto beans are doing well and I have learned something. They vine like pole beans. I thought they were a bush bean, but they look just like the Missouri Wonders, except they don’t have a trellis to grow on. Another thing we’ve noticed is that some of them appear to have the same type of curly top problem some of the tomatoes have. Because of that I think the person that commented about the soil being too fertile is probably right. Some of the beans look great and some of them are wrinkled up. Another good learning experience.

Missouri Wonder green beans next to the pinto beans

While we are in this corner of the garden, here are the two apple trees. In the past we have harvested about 20 apples altogether in the seven or eight years these trees have been here. This year there are many apples. We hope they remain on the trees long enough to ripen and harvest. I’m wondering if I will have enough to can a few which leads me to pondering the best way to do that without any added sugar or other ingredients. Any ideas?

Comfrey by the apples. The chickens get a handful each morning.

Sunflowers are planted at the end of each trellis and here and there in a couple of other places.

 I told you about the potatoes Frank bought for me in the last article. Well, right after we planted them it rained and rained and rained. Four plants survived the wet soil. They look healthy and vigorous, though, so we will see what kind of harvest we get.

We have had a few meals of the first small yellow crook neck squash. There is nothing like those first few meals, they always taste so good. Soon we will be overrun with too many, but that’s not such a bad problem to have. We can always share with the chickens. We lost a few winter squash and one yellow squash plant to vine borers before I got the wood ashes around the base of the plants. I’ll put some more out after this rainy week passes.

The carrots, and all of the surrounding weeds and crabgrass, are doing very well. I started the carrot seedlings in pot makers again this year which makes all the difference. They get a good head start and produce much better than direct seeding.


Our winter squash this year is Thelma Sanders which is a type of acorn squash, along with some seeds we saved last year. They are a mixture of five different winter squashes we grew last summer. We’ll see what they produce.


There are a few pots of nasturtiums, marjoram and basil here and there throughout the garden.

The Japanese beetles really like the amaranth. Even so, it is growing well.

 The beets are doing well this year due to being seedlings in pot makers just like the carrots. I hope to can some this year.

The okra has not liked the cool, rainy weather. It is very slowly coming along.

The corn is doing okay. The 2008 Painted Mountain seed germinated very well, much to our surprise. It has tasseled first when the open pollinated sweet corn has barely begun. We hoped to cross pollinate them, but that won’t be happening since the timing is off. And now, after the rain and wind, we’ll have to see if any makes at all.


Our experimental patch of sorghum is coming up. It will be very interesting to see how it does, along with the amaranth. We’re curious about the harvest, the labor involved and how we can add these to our diet. Learning, just can’t do without it. There is always something to learn.

That small patch of dirt back there is the sorghum.


I planted some lettuce in pots on the porch to see if we can have some through most of the summer. Another experiment. This pot has a marigold coming up in it along with the Romaine.

What is surprising is how much the garden has grown in the last week since these pictures were taken. We’ve had sunshine and many things are really taking off. I realized when looking through these pictures that there aren’t any of the tomatoes, but they’re out there, along both sides of the carrots.
Well, that’s it for now. We hear thunder not too far off and there is more rain on the way. Just hope it doesn’t have any hail or high winds with it this time.

How are things growing in your neck of the woods?

Until next time – Fern

P.S. We have a question. Do any of you have experience with a corded electric tiller? We are reviewing this one. Please tell us what you think or if you have other recommendations. I have a Mantis and it works fine, but it just won’t till. It is a cultivator, not a tiller. I need something vastly smaller than the tractor with the tiller attachment to help take care of some of these weeds. Please tell us what you think. Your thoughts are appreciated.

Our Winter Squash Failures

Two years ago I planted a number of winter squashes in May. They struggled through the hot part of the summer, but produced very well, eventually. That summer we tried a number of different varieties to see how we liked them. These included Buttercup, Cushaw, Hubbard and Acorn. The Hubbard didn’t produce well, but tasted okay. The Acorn didn’t produce well either. We had previously grown Butternut and Spaghetti squash. The Butternut was okay, but we didn’t really care for the Spaghetti squash.

Immature Buttercup, September 2013

The Buttercup was prolific, and although rather ugly and warty, tasted great. The flavor is very similar to sweet potatoes. We peeled off the worst of the warts, cut them in half, removed the seeds and placed them face down in a shallow baking dish with a small amount of water, covered with foil and baked. They were so good, we didn’t even add butter. Another plus for the Buttercup, is that they are great keepers.

Immature Cushaw, September 2013

The Cushaw squash produced very well, also. The flavor wasn’t as sweet, but they were huge. We were surprised. The volume of edible squash is very large. This squash freezes well either in chunks or boiled and mashed into a puree type consistency. One of  our goals is to can some of this squash, but we haven’t achieved that goal yet.

Both the Buttercup and the Cushaw make great squash pie which we enjoy every winter.

The last two years I have planted our winter squash in late July or early August. I figured it was still hot enough for squash to grow, but closer to fall, which is when I thought a winter squash should be grown, like pumpkins. It hasn’t worked out well at all. Both last year and this year the plants have suffered from powdery mildew, had the flowers affected somewhat by potato beetles, still had to contend with some squash bugs and just overall haven’t thrived. This year we will be lucky to get 3 decent Cushaws. We only planted one variety this year because we wanted to save the seeds. It was difficult not to plant the Buttercup because we really like them, too.

The last Cushaw on the vine for this year. We hope it gets bigger.

Next year I will plant the winter squashes when I plant the yellow squash. In May. There may be locations where the winter squashes do better later in the season, but it just doesn’t seem to be the case here. We really were hopeful about this crop. Our goal was to be able to store at least 20 large Cushaw. They are very nutritious and so are the seeds, which is an added bonus. Squash seeds also make good animal feed for chickens and goats.

Our Cushaw harvest. All 2 of them.

We are glad we have had time to learn the most effective growing patterns for the vegetables we like. The knowledge that some crops grow and produce better than others in our location is valuable information. There are always things that come up that compete with the time and effort needed to grow and preserve food. This year has definitely been one of the less productive years for us. But, in the midst of the gardening and preserving disruptions, we have still learned a lot of very valuable lessons. For that, we are thankful.

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

Corn & Fall Seedlings

The corn was ripe and ready to pick, so that was the chore for today. I have found it easier to pick the patch if I pull up or break off the stalks as I pick. It clears the ground and helps get it ready for the next crop.


I plan to use the corn stalks as a heavy mulch in a new area we want to turn into another herb bed. In years past, I have pulled up the corn stalks and piled them right outside the garden. This time, instead of stacking them on the ground, then loading them up to go somewhere else, I decided to load them directly into the back of the pickup. When I finish mowing the grass and weeds down in the area for the new bed, I can just drive by and unload these directly onto the bed. Well, that is the plan anyway.

Here is our corn harvest for the year, minus the half dozen ears we have already eaten. There are quite a few small, irregular ears that I will give to the chickens. Our young hens that are about five weeks old, have really taken to eating the scraps and comfrey leaves I bring them, so I hope they enjoy these small ears of corn. My plan is to cut the corn from the cob and can it. We tend to eat more corn from the can than from the cob, and this will also give us another learning experience since we haven’t canned corn before.

I have almost finished digging the potatoes. Once the potatoes are out this area, I will till this space, along with the adjoining old beet and onion beds for some of our fall crops. The area the corn was growing in will be used as well. With that in mind, and the time growing short, at Frank’s recommendation, I planted most of my fall crops in tubs on the porch a couple of days ago. The only thing I didn’t plant like this are the turnips, which are Purple Top White Globes. I will direct seed them.

The things I have planted in the tubs are:

  • Dr. Jaeger’s Cantaloupe – 85 days

  • Autumn King Carrots – 70 days
  • Earliana Cabbage – 57 days
  • Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach – 45-50 days
  • Long Island Improved Brussel Sprouts – 100 days
  • Cushaw Green Striped Winter Squash – 110 days

  • Bucklunch Sugar Beet – 110 days
  • Mammoth Long Red Mangel Beets – 110 days

Our first average frost date here is October 31st which is 102 days from the time I planted these seeds. The cantaloupe and winter squash vines cannot tolerate a frost.

If we have an early frost I may be able to save some of these plants with frost cloth, so I will plant them in the same area. The beets, carrots and spinach can tolerate a mild frost, so they should be fine.

The cabbage and brussel sprouts will be happier once it cools off and can take a hard frost, so I’m curious how they will do.

Gardening is an ever changing outdoor ‘school house’ where I never quit learning. The possibilities are endless and can reach as far as your knowledge and imagination can take you. Grow something. Anything. It never ceases to amaze me that I can take one small, tiny seed and watch it grow into something truly amazing. Something that can feed and sustain me. I am in awe.

Until next time – Fern

Back to School

It’s time for school to start in our neck of the woods which means I will be going back to work. This will be my 30th year teaching special education in a public school system. My experience covers a wide geography – from urban to remote bush Alaska – and many, many children. Working with these children has taught me much over the years and this profession has allowed us to live in some of the most challenging, adventurous places. I continue to be blessed with employment that I enjoy.

Because of my return to work, our blogging will decrease somewhat, but we will still be here. The usual adjustments are being made around the farm to accommodate more time away from home.

We are drying up one of our does to lessen the milk load. Velvet is producing less milk than One Stripe or Ivory so she was the likely candidate. It has been easy to switch to milking her every other day without any distention of her udder to worry about. Now I will switch to just checking on her to see if I need to take any more milk at all, or if she will just reabsorb what milk she has.

Time to tend to and process the garden will be squeezed in after work. The fall garden will hopefully be able to tend to itself for the most part. The weather is different this year with lows in the 60’s in August. It almost feels like winter will come early, which is strange for this part of the world. We usually have temperatures around 100, with lows in the low 80’s or upper 70’s. If the frosts come early, I will do some more experimenting with the frost cloth I used in the spring for the late frosts. It may extend our harvest of winter squashes.


The winter squashes and pumpkins are growing well. I got about two thirds of the corn stalks moved to mulch behind the winter squash when I ran into a pile of fire ants. So the rest of the mulch will have to wait for them to move on after I disturbed them.


Today I got the sugar beets planted since the ground finally dried out enough to work. 


I tucked the snap peas in between the two volunteer tomatoes and the volunteer
  jalapeno on this partial piece of stock panel. It all fit just right. I think I will plant the carrots around the tomatoes after I can till in a few more weeds. The potatoes haven’t come up yet. We will just have to wait and see how that goes. 

Like many folks this summer, we haven’t had many tomatoes and I haven’t been able to try my hand at making tomato sauce as I had hoped. But there will be another time and another garden, if all goes well with the world. We still have some peppers, okra, purple hull peas, squash and cucumbers to pick and process, not to mention the milk and eggs from the goats and chickens, so there will be more than enough to do.

So for the last day of summer vacation, I got some things planted in the garden, canned 9 pints of purple hull peas, made a quart of fresh salsa and cooked up 3 or 4 pints of green beans for a casserole to take to church tomorrow for lunch.

And for everyone that is following Frank’s radio communications posts, we will soon be explaining the new radio he installed in the car today. It is the same radio we use for a VHF/UHF base station. This will help standardize what we are using and give me more power in the vehicle to reach home when I need to. We feel effective means of communication are more important than ever.

Until next time – Fern