Posts in Category: Gardening

Tomatoes 1 Grapes 0

Every farmer I know is complaining about their gardens and fields this year. The long, cool, wet summer has stunted the growth of many plants, marked others with brown spots, and left the rest unripened. I understand the good year – bad year cycle but I am going into the second year with few apples and plums and absolutely no pears.

If you like green beans, this is your year. Every cool veggie is happy. It’s way past time for grapes but they still hang green on the vine. It’s time for tomatoes but they hang green even in the greenhouse. The ripening is so delayed that school has started and the canning has barely begun. This means everything is going to happen at once, I just know it!

I suppose it sounds like whining, but we have coined a phrase out here. It’s called the ‘burden of abundance’. I know it sounds absolutely horrible to feel overwhelmed with too much food, but there are times when I can’t even see my counter space because it is loaded with perishable time bombs. Too many cucumbers all at once either mean hours canning or the chickens get the rotten ones. It’s the same for the tomatoes when they finally ripen. Ah, but there is nothing better than a red, ripe tomato with a little olive oil and fresh basil. Okay, I can’t wait for it, but I also know the canning process takes time and care.

In the end, because of the vagaries of the weather this summer, we will spend a winter eating green beans, some peas, chiles, and tomato sauce. How bad can that be? My freezer also has 2 lambs since we are still trying to decide if ram lambs taste any different from ewe lambs. I think they may be tougher but that’s about it. The beef is all but gone, as is the pork. I think I spied some elk burgers and maybe a fish fillet or two. We have lots of potatoes as long as we can keep them from freezing this winter. Our onions are a bit problematic since I don’t think we have totally figured out how to store them. The kiwis will be large, but not plentiful. Except, how many kiwis can you eat anyway. The figs have been made into jam.

Okay, so I guess the harvest hasn’t been and won’t be a total loss. With the grapes ripening late, I doubt the yellow jackets will be too bad. I wonder what the deer and bear will do without their fall fruit. Well, I know the deer are eating my flowers all around the house and grazing on the lawn at night, so that’s their answer. Haven’t seen any bears close by (or at all), so I won’t worry there.

Tomato sauce will go well for the winter months and who likes picking the stems out of all those grapes for raisins anyway?

Photos: (top) greenhouse tomatoes on their way to ripening; (bottom) a one-day harvest, not counting what is sitting in the buckets all around the butcher block!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

Chicken Prison

They say chickens have a brain the size of a pea. So then why do they look so guilty when I catch them on the outside of the chicken yard. Could it be because they have dug up the new cucumber plants for the third time which means we won’t be growing any cucumbers this summer?

I like free-range chickens, really I do. They eat slugs and all sorts of bugs. They fertilize as they move through the bushes and flower beds. It’s just that small, new growth doesn’t have a chance with the scratch, scratch, scratch of those busy feet. It’s amazing what devastation one to two loose chickens can cause in a short amount of time.

Mound saw dust around the base of the blueberry bushes and a loose chicken can spread it across the grass before you even know the bird is out of the coop. Pile up leaves as mulch for the Cascade berries to keep down the grass and weeds and it ends up pushed around in clumps with bare spots of earth showing through.

Leave the door to the greenhouse open so the temperatures won’t climb to 120 degrees and this is an open invitation for the birds to scratch in any disturbed area for worms. We plant our tomatoes, chiles, cucumbers, dill, basil, and eggplant straight into the ground, providing plenty of disturbed dirt for a good scratch, scratch, scratch.

What made farmer Jones the maddest this summer, however, was the ruthless pursuit of his baby potted veggies on top of the planting table. Nurtured from seed, it’s a hard thing to see dirt dug from the middle of carefully tended six-packs and wilted plants dying on the table, roots bare and dry. So, he thought he would try to hide his plant starts in the garden, with its 8 foot fence and lush growth from cool weather plants like lettuce, peas, and broccoli.

Too bad the garden actually shares 100 feet of fence with the chicken yard because somehow Boston, our hand-raised white chicken, and two smaller Red Caps figured out how to squeeze through the woven wire despite my attempts to cover more and more of the fencing with a double layer of chicken wire.

In the end, the questions is this. Why did it take until the last cucumber shoots were scratched out, along with many of the new flowers, to consider chicken jail for the worst offenders? While we offer our chickens a Hilton Resort in terms of their yard space, we also have smaller containment areas usually reserved for introducing chicks and new animals to the flock. It wasn’t that hard a leap to make, but it took threats ranging from shooting to eating to provide the ultimate incentive.

The morning after, there was peace in the yard, peace in the garden, and three chickens staring at the door every time it opened for water and food. Do I feel badly? Absolutely not. Well, for the chickens anyway. As for the farmers, they just need to be smarter than a neural tube and not nearly so soft hearted when it comes to their feathered friends.

Photos: (top) Peeps, (middle) Boston scratching in a window box, (bottom) free-range chickens in early spring before they can do a lot of damage to the flower beds

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

The Farmer and the Scarecrow

Farmer Jones has an alter-ego that never stoops while it works in the garden. A leg will flap in the breeze and his hat blows off from time to time, but the flesh tones of the face and the bright red lips can make a person stop and stare for a moment just to make sure the figure in the garden really isn’t the Farmer himself. The crows, unfortunately, are not fooled and the corn has had to be replanted for the third time this year. I have to wonder if it is possible to harvest corn in November?

We have never had to plant the corn this many times before. Is it the late spring or have the crows determined, if we don’t do well with turkeys, how is our husbandry of the corn? I think the scarecrow idea arose from a convergence. I happened to see part of the Wizard of Oz on TV in a story about the munchkins, and I also noticed a scarecrow in my neighbor’s garden. Now, why hadn’t we thought of that?!

Most farms settle for scarecrows made of old clothes and maybe some straw. Annie took the opportunity to celebrate Father’s Day with a gift to Farmer dad. How about a face for the scarecrow? With no balloons around, but a creative mind, she stuffed plastic bags inside each other until she had something resembling a rounded head. Layers of torn newspaper were bound with a flour paste for the head, the lips and the eyes. After a round with the hair dryer, the head was painted. The resulting mask had an uncanny humanness to it, set off by bright pink lips and blue eyes.

As Farmer Greg often works in the garden in summer, it looks as if he has a companion to keep him company. The arms might move in gesture with the wind. The face smiles over the pitifully picked over rows of corn that are weedy and only about 4 inches high. It’s a good thing we have left over corn in the freezer from last year, but I will sorely miss the taste of fresh young corn right out of the garden. Our 10 rows are down to 3 and I can’t quite tell yet if we are growing feed corn or that for human consumption. Hard to think we had so much corn last year we actually sold it to the co-op!

I sometimes wonder if the joke is on us. A scarecrow seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe farmers really only use them as garden art and nobody clued us in. Maybe the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz was really just Dorothy’s neighbor down the road. The way I see it, Farmer Greg can always say he is working in the garden and no one could contradict him from afar. Is it a man or is it a scarecrow? Only the wind and the birds know.

Photos: top, The Alter-ego Scarecrow; bottom, the Farmer and the Scarecrow trompe l’oeil

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones