Enjoying Summer

It seems I took a longer break from this space than I intended!

We spent a week in town for the kids to attend theater camp with Missoula Children’s Theater – they performed Alice in Wonderland this year – and then they brought home terrible colds for us all to share. In other words, for the past two weeks we’ve been either rushing around like mad or spending our days feeling like grim death. Not a single marshmallow was roasted, nor a single swim taken.

But today! We are all on the mend, and the weather promises sun and warmth. Today we begin our summer vacation in earnest (well, you know, aside from the farm chores that never end).

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The garden is producing plenty of summer squash and cucumbers. Today I’ll be working on pickling the cukes.

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There are dozens upon dozens of pumpkins in various shapes and sizes in the pumpkin patch. I couldn’t resist grabbing a few of these little guys.

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Only about 10 corn stalks made it, but they are taller than me now.

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I’m crazy happy with the army of sunflowers I have growing out there among the winter squash.

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Churchill

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Charlie

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Darby

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Perivale

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Lyra

There’s plenty of work to be done – the dogs need a good brushing again, and there’s a crazy amount of weeding that seems to never make a difference – but I’m also finally finding time to relax with some reading or my knitting. I’m hoping in the next few days to find my way back to the sewing machine as well!

At the very least, there are marshmallows with Oona’s name on them, and she’ll make sure they get taken care of this evening.

Sun – Drenched Solstice

Happy (officially) summer!

We celebrated with fresh-picked peaches, berries, our first pesto of the year, and s’mores.

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Aren’t they just little globes of sunshine?

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Speaking of sunshine…..my sunflowers are starting to bloom!

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The berries are really starting to come in now. I’ve been putting at least as many directly into my mouth as into the basket as I pick them!

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Maddie brought Twyla along to pick peaches; she had a blast meeting new people and smelling new smells. The poor little thing completely passed out from all the excitement in the car and slept for a few good hours afterwards!

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Peach slushies are a must!

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We brought home 25 pounds of peaches, and I went to work to preserve those that weren’t going to be eaten right away.  I couldn’t wait to put up a batch of this peach salsa from Marisa McClellan’s  Food In Jars, which is among my favorite cookbooks ever. While cooking, it made the house smell heavenly!

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Post-dinner wine for me, s’mores for the kids.

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We stayed out and played Mad Libs while waiting for the full moon to rise. The temperature was perfect and for once it wasn’t too buggy. I can’t think of a better way to have spent the longest day of the year!

When Summer Comes

The solstice may not be until next week, but it is summer nonetheless!  We are winding down our school year (it just never, ever feels finished!) and will be done just in time for our yearly week with Missoula Children’s Theater at the end of the month.  The kids are burnt out, I’m burnt out. It’s going to feel great to be on summer vacation (then I can listen to the Hamilton soundtrack ALL DAY LONG without guilt!).

We HAVE been swimming already, and we have been busy making s’mores in the evenings.  We’re hoping that the weather will cooperate so that we can go peach picking for the first official day of summer. I’m dreaming of peach chutney, peach salsa, peach cobbler, and fresh peaches for mid-afternoon snacking. We’ve already stuffed ourselves silly with cherries this season – though sadly we had to buy them at the grocery store, as our local orchard lost their crop this year due to the early heat followed by a late frost.

As for my own fruit trees, it’s a mixed bag. I still have 3 cherry trees chugging along out there, growing, but very slowly. The challenge here has been deer.  Three of our apple trees are HUGE and doing really, really well (though I can see that I will eventually have to break down and spray them with fungicide….ugh), and one is puttering along at its own leisurely pace. As for the peach trees – one remains.  Most likely I will try and put more in this fall; I’m not giving up that easy!

My grapevines on the other hand….they are not only growing, they are THRIVING. With luck, one day I’ll be flush with concord grape jam!

This year has been a bit trying for the vegetable gardens, as well.  Such a prolonged, wet, and chilly spring meant that the hot weather veggies took longer to grow, and not all of my seedlings survived. However, those that did seem to be loving the heat lately.  The early and generous coating of diatomaceous earth helped a bit as well, but not quite enough (we really do have quite the epidemic of squash bugs here), and I was sadly compelled to use a permethrin powder on the summer squashes.  Fortunately I was vigilant and aggressive this year and I was able to apply the powder well before the flowers grew and opened, thus avoiding problems for the pollinators. As a result, we may yet have a pretty decent squash harvest.

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I planted about 32 tomato plants this year, and I have just over a dozen doing well now.

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Cantaloupe sprouts!

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Watermelon

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Little tiny cucumbers!

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Pumpkin plants as far as the eye can see!

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Acorn squash!

I am amazed every time I go out to the very back garden, where all the pumpkins, winter squash, and corn are planted. It seems to quadruple every day. It’s not a well organized garden, as this year was more of an experiment to see how a garden out there would fare, but it sure it growing like mad!  Next year I’ll have to spend time tilling it and spreading out the earth into more even rows.

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I’m feeling really optimistic about this year’s progress. I’d better get the pressure canner ready!

All That Summer Holds

We are so close to all things summer. We’ve had a few campfire nights with marshmallows, we’ve cleaned off and fired up the grill, and the animals have had their summer haircuts. We’ve even prepped the pool for opening. All we need now is to be done with school and we can really dig into blissful warm-weather activities.

I’ve been pushing hard to finish our materials, but it’s likely going to be a few more weeks before we are done (if you’ll remember, we didn’t start until after labor day, so we are actually right on track).

The gardens are going well, so far. I’ve given up on the peas – they took forever to sprout and now I fear it’s gotten too hot for them. Everything else seems to be thriving, more or less.  I’ve had to replant my cantaloupes, cucumbers, and watermelons due to voles, but tiny sprouts are coming back up and I’ve sprayed some gross organic garlic and egg stuff around that’s supposed to keep rodents away.

Of the 32 tomato plants I put in the ground, 28 are still going strong. I’m calling that a win.  I’m also calling my basil a win – I grew it all from seed this year, and we have about a dozen plants now. With luck there will be an abundance of pesto this year!

We’ve got several different herbs going strong, and I’m hoping to propagate more from them soon, to spread around.

The sunflowers and the corn are nearly knee-high, and the winter squash plants seem to love the composted hay and manure in the back field.

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The wild blackberry bushes are loaded with new berries.

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Little flowers on the tomato plants.

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I’ve spread A LOT of diatomaceous earth on the squash, and a little on everything else, as well. I’ve seen this method work wonders for friends, so watch out, squash bugs!

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The pumpkin plants are getting HUGE. They’ve grown a ton of new leaves since I coated them with DE  last week.

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Down at the stream.

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The back pasture has become downright meadow-like!

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The ducks are all ready for hot weather, too:

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Aside from school, working in the garden, and taking care of the various animals, I’ve started making yogurt again.

I used to use my crockpot, which worked out very well, but it was big and unwieldy and didn’t fit in the dishwasher.  I also had to be very attentive with it, keeping a thermometer clipped to the side and wrapping it in towels to keep it warm after adding the culture (the “warm” setting on it was too hot for the yogurt).  Recently, though, I bought a bigger rice cooker (now that we have two extra people here, our little 2-cup machine wasn’t cutting it), and I specifically got the model that also has a yogurt setting. I don’t have to do a thing, AND I can put it in the dishwasher afterwards.

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I’ve been doing 2 quarts at a time, and it’s been setting up much firmer than with my old method.  This is good news, because I don’t need the greek yogurt strainer to have a good consistency yogurt. But….

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I do love a good, thick yogurt.  I’m already deciding what various fruit purees I can make to mix in, now that making yogurt is virtually zero work.

The BIG news around here, though, is Maddie and John’s new little meatball. Or chicken sandwich, if you will. Or even Nacho. All of the food-related nicknames you can imagine.

For this:

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Her name is Twyla, and she’s a 6 month-old Pekingese/Chihuahua/Dachshund-ish mix. We are enjoying her so much while they are here (until late August, or so).  All of the other dogs are just fine with her, and the cats are more or less unconcerned, so long as she leaves them alone. Only Widget seems to have an issue with her, but considering she did try to chase him, it’s understandable. Of course, he outweighs her by a large amount, and his being afraid of her is rather ridiculous and entertaining.

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Oona is going to enjoy every moment of it she can.

 

Shearing, Gardens, and More!

May 8th. That was the last time I blogged. Holy cow, y’all. I’m not sure I’ve ever gone that long!

I have no excuse, really. Have I been busy? Yes. But, no more than usual this time of year. At the moment I am waiting for my suuuuuuper slow technology to work so I can upload pictures.

Since I’ve been here we all nearly needed to get our boating licenses, what with all the rain. I was beginning to fear summer would never come. I’m still afraid we may have an overly wet summer.

Normally waiting for May before shearing means the sheep are more than ready to lose their wool. It’s a relief when it finally all comes off, and they happily wander back to the hay, feeling light and cool and happy.

This year? Not so much.

First, I had to pen them in the garage, of all places. It has been so wet and muddy that there was no good place to keep them where they’d stay dry waiting for Emily to get here.   I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what a bunch of sheep penned together for 3 days will do to a space; it was quite a mess to clean up afterward.  As for letting them back out into the field after getting shorn….well.  It was not only still raining, but much chillier than you’d want for your newly-naked ovines.

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But yesterday – yesterday at last! We finally had a day with no rain at all. It’s been gloriously sunny and hot. It’s felt downright luxurious to be able to check on and feed the animals, weed the gardens, and collect eggs without getting rained on the entire time.

The downside, of course, is finding two giant black snakes coiled up together in one of the coops yesterday afternoon. They’d availed themselves of the eggs in there and left at some point of their own volition. I have no idea where they went, but now I have the heebie-jeebies big time.  I didn’t disturb them, because lord knows I had a million scenarios play out in my head of how I’d manage it, and none of them ended well for me. Thankfully, our neighbor across the street has offered to come get them out  for me, should they return.

They’re not back today, thankfully. I walked very carefully into all the gardens and kept a wary eye out while weeding and spreading out diatomaceous earth (I’ll conquer those squash bugs this year, dammit).  I had to replant the melon and cucumbers, thanks to some sneaky vole activity (why can’t the snakes pick on the voles instead of the chickens? Gah!), and I had to gather back the errant chicks that had squeezed out of their pen. I saw no snakes. I hope it stays that way.

And look! Radishes are finally coming in! And chard!

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And little white flowers on my ever-expanding raspberry bushes!

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Miss Piper, lounging in the hay

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Sweet Dilly is FINALLY off steroids. Hopefully her platelets and red blood cells continue to stay within normal levels.

 

Marvelous May

It’s finally May!  Hopefully this will mean the weather will continue to warm and we won’t have weeks on end of rain anymore.  May also means two birthdays in our house, Neve (at the end of the month) and Maddie.

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My  baby sister turned 21 this past week (and her sweet boyfriend John graduated college!).  Aren’t they adorable?

Now that it’s almost summer I’ve been missing Europe pretty hard, and thinking about surrounding myself with herbs and flowers again.

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I’ve got potted herbs started on the deck, and my veggie seedlings are finally starting to outgrow their pots and will be ready to transplant into the garden soon. Neve and I started a few dozen basil seeds, and I’m hoping we get a decent amount of grown plants. Right now I’m a little overwhelmed with basil sprouts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

My grape plants are budding and starting to leaf out:

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I was pretty concerned about these, I’m not going to lie. When I planted them they looked like dried-up sticks and nothing more. I had a hard time tilling the soil where I planted them, and though I used a bit of compost when I put them in the ground, the area where they are planted is in full sun and the dirt is very rocky and poor. Now, I did that purposely after reading many, many articles about how and where to plant grapes. Still, it felt counter-intuitive, and I’m relieved to see how well they are doing.

Likewise, my elderberries are growing like mad! I’m pretty excited about these; looking forward to elderberry jam!

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I’ve finally got a few pea plants growing – I only planted them like a freaking month ago – and I’m hoping it doesn’t get too hot for them before they grow pea pods. I’ve also finally got some beet sprouts and chard.

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In the back garden I’ve got cucumber, cantaloupe, watermelon, zucchini, and yellow squash sprouts, and I’m very excited to say that in the pumpkin patch there are several rows of pumpkins, sunflowers, and corn sprouts. 05.08.16h

This year I’m prepared with industrial quantities of diatomaceous earth! I’m getting a decent harvest this year if it kills me.

While we’re talking about lovely things growing, check out the back pasture!

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What a difference from the rocky, barren field it once was! I’m not sure when we are going to put the flock back out there. Initially we were going to try and give it more time to really grow in, but since there are still lots of rocks out there we really can’t mow,  we may need our four-legged mowers out there soon!

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Wild irises along the stream!

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On the other bank, these wild daisies!

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Peonies

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The ducks are finally all feathered-out, and patiently waiting to be let out of their pen to roam the garden.

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The little chicks have also made a transition – from the brooder to the tractor!  I still worry they’ll be warm enough, but they are almost completely feathered, and 7 weeks old now. In addition to the tractor itself, I’ve placed them in Orzo’s circle of protection. I can’t wait for these babies to be egg-laying ladies!

 

 

 

Escape the Boredom!

Okay, so this post will be just a bit different.

Our friends are  opening a new business downtown and we’ve gotten to spend time with them as they’ve brought their creative vision to life.

Have you ever heard of an “Escape Room”?

The concept is simple: you and a small group of friends enter a room with a theme and are completely immersed in  a puzzle-solving adventure. The clues are not overly simple and you have to work as a team to achieve the final puzzle and “escape” whatever danger that room has lurking.

Timing-wise, it takes about an hour.

Although we had never tried it before, we had a blast finding all of the different clues and figuring out what they all meant. I loved that we got to have the kids spend time being entertained by using their brains! And working together!

I know I’m totally biased, because we got to spend the afternoon with some of our favorite people right on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, and then follow it up at the new  Mexican restaurant, The Bebedero. We don’t usually get to spend a day in town like that, and I’m hoping we’ll make time to do it more often.

If you’re local, you can check out the website for the Escape Room HERE.

Afterwards, you can checkout The Bebedero because HOLY COW it’s amazing.