Prairie Chickens, Garden Chickens

chickens 6-30-15The chickens got good and bonded to their pen and coop before I started leaving the door open for them during the day. The hope was that they would not wander over to the other two homes and yards on the farm, and in truth they stay pretty close to the pen.

chickens prairie 2My real hope was that they would wander, when they wandered, out into the prairie. I thought it would be excellent to see them from the window walking down the paths and grazing on the bugs and flora in the prairie. And they did one morning come exploring down the south side of the house and then down the prairie paths. They even found their way back home. But in the month since, they have mostly stuck to the trees and area around their pen. They like to lie in a pile under the white pine next to the pen, or graze around the trees by the pond.

prairie chickens 1
My biggest fear was that they’d wander immediately into the garden and start happily grazing from the raised beds. To deter that, I shooed them back when they so much as looked at the squash bed.

When they discovered the trees adjacent to the pond that are along the north end of the garden, I knew I was probably in trouble. Two nights ago I came home to signs of serious chicken activity in the raised bed.

Someone had been sitting in the carrots.

smashed carrots

Someone had trampled through the remains of the lettuce (ready to be pulled so no major loss).

trampled lettuce

And worst of all, there was what looked decidedly like a dirt bath in the area of the raised bed where I’d recently put out some spinach seedlings. (Seedlings gone.)

chicken dirt bath

I’m employing some vigilance and trying to encourage them into other areas. They didn’t do any real damage, and so far I haven’t caught them in the act. They do like to follow me, so I have plenty of chances to run after them like a madwoman flapping my arms to get them out of the garden. Do you think it’s confusing that I also throw beet greens and other scraps into their pen?

june 29 dinnerMeanwhile, the eating hababy zucchinis really never been so good. Yesterday I roasted the last cauliflower with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper, and had so much basil I made some quick pesto. Beets rounded out the vegetarian platter.
june basilBy the end of the week, we’ll have our first little zucchini! But what surprises me most is that basil. It’s a hot weather plant and I usually don’t get anything (from seed) of any kind of harvestable size until mid-late-July. It’s going to be a great year for basil– this plant even shows signs of producing those giant floppy stems of basil leaves!

roasted cauliflower

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Late June Joy

harvest 6-24-15

There are many things to be happy about as June draws to a close, including the two major Supreme Court decisions this week. Also, it is June, and it’s been gorgeous! The flowers are blooming and midsummer variety is coming to the vegetable garden.

pea trellisI gasped this week when I saw the first snow peas on the vine. I don’t know why such a thing would make me gasp, because I saw the blossoms a few days before, but it is always a miracle. The pea vines have grown higher than the fencing, so I’ve added a layer of twine netting to hold them. Peas have a brief season here– coming up late because of the cold and fading early because of the heat of July– so I haven’t bothered in the past to give them too much height to climb.

baby zucchini

I barely saw the zucchini blossoms open, too, before there were baby zucchini growing out of them! I don’t know how the suckers got pollinated so quickly!

I am also very happy to report that due to some clever camouflaging of her nest and the weeds in the ponds, the mallards have brought NINE ducklings to adolescence. I hope they all live to be adults.

cauliflower soup

cauliflower soup

The recipe I have on offer today is for Polish Cauliflower Soup. I am always skeptical of soups with very few ingredients and almost no herbs– not even garlic in this one. But this soup was pronounced “elegant” and “company-worthy” by Steve. The original recipe, even simpler, was on the New York Times food blog in 2009. I found it when someone posted the link to a Chicago CSA Facebook group I participate in. I made his suggested change (use sour cream), and also one of the changes in the comments, although in the future I’d skip the potatoes and I think cooking the carrots separately is a waste of energy.

Polish Cream of Cauliflower Soup

1 quart chicken stock
2 cups cauliflower florets
1/2 cup organic sour cream (a little less, mixed with milk, if it’s too solid)
2 Tbs flour
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs fresh dill
1/2 cup diced carrots and/or potatoes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Simmer cauliflower in the chicken stock for 20 to 30 minutes (I did this for only 15 minutes with my tender garden cauliflower). Combine the sour cream, flour and egg yolk with a whisk. Add 1 cup chicken stock to the cream mixture, then gradually pour the cream mixture into the remaining stock, stirring constantly. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not boil. Garnish with the dill. And yes, it does taste even better the next day.

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Weeds and the New Machine

weed barrowI was complaining about weeds on Facebook yesterday and getting lots of sympathy. It doesn’t bother me to weed if I am able to be systematic about it. If you just go out and attack the weeds all the time, weeding can feel like a chore that never ends.

I garden primarily in raised beds. This year they’ve had more weeds than usual, and I’m not sure why, except that maybe I didn’t start clearing the weeds early enough. I am always weeding the raised beds, just randomly pulling out weeds as I walk by. This doesn’t bother me– the weeds give easily, except for grass, and I can use my little hand hula hoe to go between rows and do a bed very quickly. I do see how weeding limits succession planting. The carrots I sowed everywhere around the tomato plants have now made those beds a pain to weed. I have to be careful not to uproot the tiny carrot fronds! I’m thinking my old method of not sticking in baby lettuces or basil plants or tiny parsley and cilantro plants was a good one. I could just worry about the big plants and cultivate with a tool.

weeds close to the squash bed

weeds close to the squash bed

The real issue for me has always been the weeds between the beds. I pull them by hand as much as possible. Today I filled one entire wheelbarrow (I’m calling it the weed-barrow these days), which is half as much as I pulled two weeks ago, at their peak. There is gravel there, and we’ve had good rains, so they pull up easily, mostly by the root.

 hand-weeded row

hand-weeded row

My system has been to weed between the rows of raised beds and cultivate the squash bed one day a week (Wednesday) and then weed up and down the rows of onions, potatoes and beans one weekend day (Saturday). That has worked pretty well in terms of keeping the weeds under control and making me feel like I’ve accomplished a lot without waking up every morning thinking I have to get out there and weed the garden.

But just a few feet from the squash bed there is just this incredible mess of weeds. The same is true along the edge of the potato bed and over by the pile of yak compost. I cannot see my raspberry bushes.

The problem is that this area where my garden is has traditionally been brush. It has never been seeded in grass, and never really seeded in prairie either. It’s been cleared periodically, usually with the use of Roundup. There are two tools out here on the prairie: Roundup and chain saws. In fact, I can here Steve’s partner Jeff right now out cutting thistle heads in the prairie with a small chain saw.

I forgot all about the other tool that NORMAL people use to control weeds. It’s called a weed whacker! It’s an edger! People use it along the edges of their yard and around things like raised beds and trees! Even women can use them handily! (I say that to mock the very strict-seeming gender roles on the farm that prohibit women from using most if not all of the large equipment.) They make them with batteries, not gasoline-operated!

I used to have a weed whacker, actually, back 9 years ago when I had a house and a yard and mowed my own lawn with something that didn’t resemble a tractor!  So guess what I got myself for my birthday?

The glorious machine

The glorious machine

I’m telling you, this thing is an answer to my prayers. The charge only lasted about a half hour, but in that time I made serious inroads on the jungle, even chopped off the heads of about two dozen thistles about to flower out. I was swinging this thing with abandon, and even lost a bean plant or two. Just look at the space by the squash patch now!

weeds whacked

weeds whacked

I’ll still pull weeds by hand where it counts, at least in June. I can happily make the case now that Roundup need never come within 100 yards of my garden again.

As for the long row between the raised beds, I also did something to help that situation. Steve had brought back a large rubber tarp from a job that someone wanted him to dispose of. It was some kind of roofing liner. I cut it into four-foot swaths and laid it down my center row. It is so much stronger than landscape fabric, so hopefully I’ll get a few years’ use out of it. I’m also going to make better use of straw and grass clippings next year to keep the spring weeds down. I notice they aren’t as strong where the garlic is growing and extra straw covered the ground.

row cover

row cover

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Here Today, the Prairie Edition

garlic scapeThis time of year, when the days are their longest and we’re getting both intense sun and rain, I wonder what my big hurry was earlier in the spring. Things happen overnight this time of year. The beets plump, the radishes pop out of the ground, the cucumber vines climb, the squash leaves unfurl.

One day, no garlic scapes. The next day: scapes.

In the prairie we have to relearn the names of all the things, and there is almost always something new. We find ourselves saying: “Isn’t it early for that?” We never remember when flowers bloom and it’s always surprising. Here’s a sample of what a walk in the prairie reveals this morning after the solstice.

Spiderwort is edible. I've been dropping nasturtium and mint into ice cubes, and this morning the flower of choice was spiderwort.

Spiderwort is edible. I’ve been dropping nasturtium and mint into ice cubes, and this morning the flower of choice was spiderwort.

Lupine forms these excellent fuzzy seed bods after it blooms.

Lupine forms these excellent fuzzy seed bods after it blooms.

the too-early purple coneflower

the too-early purple coneflower

daisy fleabane and the kind of tiny bees (sweat bees?) we see everywhere

daisy fleabane and the kind of tiny bees (sweat bees?) we see everywhere

The sawtooth sunflowers are drawing bumble bees.

The sawtooth sunflowers are drawing bumble bees.

Bluebottles are everywhere, too.

Bluebottles are everywhere, too.

whorled milkweed: we have at least three types of milkweed in the prairie.

whorled milkweed: we have at least three types of milkweed in the prairie.

Our perennial favorite, also edible, yarrow

Our perennial favorite, also edible, yarrow

some kind of beard tongue

some kind of beard tongue

white sage

white sage

hawkweed next to the oak grove that is also filled with sprays of daisy fleabane

hawkweed next to the oak grove that is also filled with sprays of daisy fleabane

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Pause

dad at church
I joined a homesteader Facebook group recently and it has been interesting to see what homesteaders talk about. Many of them are engaged in child rearing, trying to do it on the land. In many cases they are building or remodeling homes while getting their small farms going. One woman is even doing all this without a washing machine.

It’s wonderful to see the community on the blogs sharing recipes for DIY home cleaning products and I easily skip over all the entries on the best child carriers, front and back, and especially the somewhat obsessive posts about what it is good or not good for children to eat.

Here on our farm, we’re on the opposite end of the life cycle. The need for care for Steve’s mother and father switched quite suddenly into high gear two weeks ago and it’s been quite a journey. In twelve days the family has moved from providing 24-hour care at their home to visiting his dad in a hospital setting and now to moving him into a Catholic nursing home in nearby Albany, Minnesota.

Steve’s dad has been experiencing symptoms of dementia for two years, but he has still had no problem living at home with assistance from the children on the weekends. His mother also has some symptoms, although never as pronounced as his dad. Two weeks ago, though, his dad’s cognition suddenly went down precipitously. He no longer recognized his wife or knew where he was. And he remained more or less in a state of confusion. He also started wandering to his parents’ former home, about 15 blocks away. This is what necessitated the constant family presence.

What has been amazing to see through this all is how he has coped. I must believe his grounding in family and place and particularly in Catholicism has allowed him to face this crisis with as much grace as he has.

To be there with his mom and dad last Monday and attend daily Mass at the nursing home next door to their house (which unfortunately does not have memory care or a secure area) was quite moving to me. The community, many in wheelchairs, all sing and participate! The priest, a resident at the home and a classmate of Steve’s dad from the Catholic grade school in town, moves around with a walker from altar to ambo but gave a thoughtful homily on the Beatitudes. For that hour, Steve’s dad was fully engaged and calm.

At every step, his dad has been graceful, kind, and accepting. When things have been very difficult– a hospital stay to try to identify medications that could help– he has retreated to happy days and happy spaces– believing he was in his college dorm room or arranging high school basketball tournaments. When visiting him, he comes back to us and is much his old self.

For us, there have been the drives through the June landscape. Seeing the effects of rain on the fields and where the farmers have marked them for drainage tiles (with discussion of the ill effects of agricultural run-off). The winding back roads that take us past an dilapidated dairy co-Unknown
operative in a tiny town, a mark of early farmer cooperation where they aggregated their milk for better and more profitable distribution. Corn and cows and lakes. Storm clouds and sunsets.

Steve’s dad is now at a place where he can walk around any time he likes in an extensive series of courtyards, one with a lovely statue of Mary. The view from his room is of a large brick church, much like the one he left behind in his home town. We stopped in there first to see the gorgeous ornamental altars and the stations of the cross, which are in German. Between our farm and this place is the college he loved so dearly, where all of his eight children went to school. We can check him out to visit both of th
ese places, and my hope is he’ll be out here to see the greenhouse completed.

For me, a large part of this “homesteader” identity is finding myself in a place. For good. Attentive to the life of the place. To see and find ways to be with the young and the old. It has been a great blessing to me to not be working full time and be able to participate in this transition for Steve’s dad.

On the way out of the home yesterday, we ran into our neighbor Maurice (pronounced Morris) Palmersheim. He is 91 years old and was unloading his concertina from the back of his car. He comes to the home once a month to play music with the Tuberty brothers. He let us know he is featured in this week’s paper and will be marshal of the 4th of July parade this year.

The priests out there in Albany are two men from St. John’s Abbey. One was my pastor  in Cold Spring and worked on my annulment so I could get remarried seven years ago. The depth of community I’ve been able to achieve here in a decade is amazing to me.

So there it is. Homesteading. Steady in your home.

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A Cauliflower Trick

produce 6-11-15I’m not sure where I picked up this helpful hint, but I kinda love it. Cauliflower will supposedly turn green with too much exposure to sunlight. I harvested my first head– 14 oz!! yesterday from the early planting. But before that, I covered it and the other four growing heads with their own leaves.

cauliflower cover 1This keeps them “blanched” and snowy white (the variety is Snobowl) as they grow. I just folded the leaves over the top of each head and secured it with a chip clip. As the heads grow, they do push the leaves open. It’s also like a little present!

cauliflower 6-10-15The next variety of lettuce is just at the baby stage now. It has developed some early blight, I think from the heavy rains and possibly being over-planted. Still, it is in good shape. I mean, I’ll eat it!

baby lettuce blightI’m trying to do much more succession planting this year, but I realize one reason why people choose not to do that. It is about weeds, of course. If you just plant the beds and let them go to work, you can cultivate around the large plants and not worry about something new trying to come up. To have to discern between tiny new carrots, radishes, beets, parsley, etc, and the established plants takes more time and effort. I know I’m cultivating areas that I planted with something new because I forget that kind of thing and my labeling skills are not the best. That said, I have sown more lettuces, greens, and baby kales here and there.

beets 6-10-15Next up is beets. We had solid plates of greens just from the thinnings last night. Early on a rabbit got in there, but even just setting a fence loosely around the bed as deterred them and they’ve come back nicely.

Ah, I do think June might be my favorite month. Mother Nature takes care of most of the watering, everything is lush and green, and there’s garden food every night!

lettuce 6-12-15

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Prairie Walk

Sometimes you just have to let the prairie speak for itself. The lupine spreads every year, and the milkweed does, too. I saw my first Monarch butterfly from my window Sunday, and one today but couldn’t catch it with my camera. This post is dedicated to Cynthia, blogger at Handmade.homegrown.beautiful life who often shares beautiful photos of her garden and also has Wordless Wednesdays, a concept I’d like to employ on my blog. (Do you think I could really post without words?)

lupine 6-10-15

Lupine with some bluestem

milkweed

milkweed

house with oak

house with oak

yellow flowers 6-10-15

wetlands burned this spring

wetlands burned this spring

grove of oaks with spray of asters

grove of oaks with spray of asters

field of asters with rock

sole false sunflower blooming

sole false sunflower blooming

house with coop

house with coop

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