S|NO|wpocalypse ’17

We were so hoping for a snow day. They’d been calling for a foot or so for us, and everyone was out in force yesterday clearing the stores of eggs, milk, and bread (not to mention the liquor store).  I had no appointments or places to be the next couple days, and was prepared to give the kids a day off from school to play in the snow and enjoy our one and only day of winter.

We got 4 more Pekin ducklings a few days ago, and I  beefed up their bedding and made sure they were good and cozy and the heat lamp wouldn’t be affected by ice or snow.  We have gallons and gallons of kerosene in reserve for the heater, just in case. In short, we should’ve known.

This was our glorious snow storm:

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SO DISAPPOINTING.

It looks like winter has passed us by this year, and we may as well keep on our path to spring.

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So what do you do when you’ve lost out on your much-needed snowday?

First I put together dough for cinnamon bread and made a good strong cup of coffee.

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Then I worked on cutting some pieces for quilting.

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Of course, Widget wasn’t going to allow that to last without some “help”.

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I can’t resist him. I’ve put away the quilting supplies and moved on to transferring some of my seedlings out of the starter kit that Widget keeps sitting on and trying to eat the sprouts out of.

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It was a decidedly NOT snowday thing to do.  It did, however, make me happier about the impending spring and summer weather. I can’t wait for those  juicy tomatoes, fresh off the vine (if I can keep the deer out this year!).

I did make the kids do their schoolwork today, as well. They didn’t mind, since there was no snow outside to frolic in. Plus they were all gathered around the table once the cinnamon bread came out of the oven.

I’ll be making a giant batch of Bolognese sauce and knitting more hats the rest of the day while I resign myself that winter is pretty well done.

Someone better tell my hens it’s time to start laying some eggs!

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Still Waiting

Waiting for winter, waiting for spring, waiting to see if my ewes are bred. If they are, they’re not telling.  If they aren’t, they are getting pretty fat anyway.

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I’ve been organizing my lambing supplies and ordering what I need, just in case. I’ve also been trying not to bother them too much, though that isn’t as easy.  I want to keep my hands on them to make sure they’re gaining enough weight, and checking their mucous membranes for signs of anemia. So far, everything seems okay, but one thing I’ve learned is to never count on it staying that way!

Last year’s baby chicks are finally starting to lay and/or crow, and I’m dreaming of ducklings now. I won’t order any chicks, but if one of our hens decides to go broody, I’ll put together a little maternity ward and hatch some eggs that way.

Signs of spring are definitely everywhere. The buds are really popping on the trees, and daffodils and forsythia are blooming everywhere. Mine are a little bit behind, owing to our little micro-climate in our hollow. It’s tough not to be out every day prepping the garden beds and getting the seeds started, but it’s only February.  Winter has been known to come back and smack us hard in March, so I’m not counting on this warmer weather to last reliably.  I have been out covering over troublesome weed areas with cardboard and feed bags, though. The war against weeds knows no winter!

I’ve also been cleaning up my beehive components and getting them ready for new occupants.  For Valentine’s Day Paul ordered me a new colony set to arrive in April from a local source. It’ll be so good to have bees again! I’m debating moving them a bit closer to the house and away from the neighbor who sprayed bifenthrin all over their property the summer before my previous colony failed. They haven’t done so since, and I’m hoping they won’t again.

On cooler days I’ve been trying to catch up on making stock from the leftover chicken carcasses from dinners. I’ve been keeping them frozen until I had a chance to let them slow cook, and whenever I can, I put them on the stove in my giant  pot and make up gallons of stock. It’s one of the most satisfying things to make in your kitchen!

Despite the warmer temperatures, Pussy Hats have been flying off my needles. I’m on my fourth at the moment, and keep getting requests for more. I’m more than happy to oblige, though I realize I could have finished my Chimney Fire sweater a few times over by now!  It is gratifying though to have smaller projects that work up quickly and are portable enough to bring to appointments during the week.

Maybe my sweater will be done before winter is, but it’s not looking like it. Secretly (or not…), I AM still hoping for one good wallop of snow before spring.

Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

The End Of August

This is it, folks. The last day of August. Summer is coming fast to a close. Tomorrow is the start of my most favorite time of year, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  The kids are enjoying their last full week off before school starts. The animals certainly look ready for cooler weather, hiding out in the shade all day being lethargic.  Even inside,the cats have been favoring darker, cooler spots under beds during the day.

Unfortunately my battery charger for my camera has died, so the pictures in this post are all from my phone.

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Little Poppet, who is almost a year old now and still impossibly tiny.

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I started working on my sweater again for the first time in a few months. I realized that Rhinebeck is not actually that far away now, so I’d better get it done!

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A portion of the garden’s output this year. I may have been robbed of my tomatoes (stupid deer), but boy my pumpkins have come through!

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Asters and mums!!!!

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There’s still plenty of goldenrod all around as well.

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Flapjack and Charlie have become something of an item. He follows Charlie wherever he goes, and Charlie shares his food with him. Normally, Charlie will snap at anyone who gets in on his food (the chickens, the goats, the dogs, Churchill), but for some reason he doesn’t mind Flapjack. Must be love!

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While Flapjack is following Charlie, Charlie is generally following me. He loves having his ears scratched!

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Of course, I think he also is always hoping I’ll have a treat for him.

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Morning glories! You know what that means………my birthday is just around the corner!

Jamming in the Summer

Lately I’ve been craving jam. A lot. I think it *may* have something to do with my friend Sarah in Canada who keeps posting pictures of all the delicious jams she’s been making the last couple of months. But, as I don’t at the moment have a ready supply of fruit to use (some people around here keep eating it all before it can be used for anything…..), I turned to what I DO have: tomatoes. Tomato jam is incredibly delicious. You can use it in place of ketchup, or slather it on some french bread with chevre  (the yumminess!).  I also wouldn’t judge you for eating it out of the jar with a spoon.

The recipe I use comes from the fabulous Food In Jars by Marisa McClellan. Chopped tomatoes get cooked down with cinnamon, cloves, red peppers, lime juice, ginger, and sugar to make a zesty, sweet/savory, tomato-y jam that will deliciously haunt your dreams forever.

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I can’t wait to put this on everything!

The downside is how wonderfully fall-like it made the house smell, what with the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. We’re struggling hard to enjoy every last bit of summer before we have to close the pool and pack up our sun dresses and sandals for the year, but the light quality is already changing and the nights have gotten noticeably cooler. Enjoy this last bit of summer, everyone. It won’t last long.

Escape!

There have been several escapes going on here lately. Firstly, the unintended escape from this blog I apparently had!  I have no real excuse, other than it’s summer, and busy, and yet somehow lazy at the same time.

I’ve also started working very part-time for friends who opened a new business downtown. It hardly feels like work; being in a fun place with your best friends makes the time fly and feel more like you’re socializing than working. It’s my next “escape” that’s been going on: Cville Escape Room. Have you ever been to an escape room? I never had. There are three rooms so far, each with a unique, completely immersive theme. When I’m there, I’m typically greeting people and re-setting the rooms after a group has “escaped”. It has gotten me out of the house and downtown a bit, which is my favorite part of Charlottesville.

My third escape? Book club weekend in Virginia Beach! Believe it or not, my camera didn’t come out with me this time. I felt the pictures were getting redundant, and I always worry about sand and saltwater getting in it and mucking it up. But, I do wish I had captured a group image this year, because we have two new members: Victoria and Maddie. Maddie! Yes, she’s finally official, and finally legal to come with us. And I couldn’t be happier, because she’s recently made an escape of her own. She and John moved into their own place up near D.C., where they’ve both got wonderful jobs. I’m so proud of her and how far she’s come.

But what about farm life, you ask?

The garden has done quite well this year, despite the massive amounts of rain drowning everything.

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Bumper crop of cucumbers, anyone? Before the dreaded wild morning glory weeds choked them out while I was away, the cucumber plants went mad with production power. So much so, that I have more pickles than I will ever need, have been eating them daily for lunch, and didn’t care when they were finally taken over.

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A mere fraction of what is in my fridge.

The zucchini and yellow squash didn’t fare quite as well; the squash bugs made a comeback mid-season. But, I did get enough of both to make it a success anyway.

The tomatoes have been the real disappointment. We had hundreds of fruit set on the vines and then we had several damaging issues. First, deer jumped the fence and trampled the plants, stealing many of the green tomatoes right off the vine. Then, the rain came and made the ground super soggy, causing a lot of wilt. And third, tomatoes in general are very late this year for everyone. So although I still have several healthy plants, the tomatoes are still very green and not wanting to ripen. I’ve gotten a mere handful of red ones.

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Better than nothing, right? I do still count them as a success, because I managed to do everything right: the soil, the mulch, the diatomaceous earth. If not for deer, rain, and mother nature, I’d have more than I could handle.

Then there’s the pumpkin patch. It’s gone insane. HUNDREDS of orange pumpkins. I needed the tractor to carry them all up to the house. Then I spent two damn days washing them in bleach solution to keep them preserved. In addition, I’ve pulled a dozen giant white flat pumpkins, several blue jarrahdale pumpkins, 6 big, beautiful butternut squash, and 2 giant acorn squash. The squash bugs and vine borers got to the field mid-season as well, and since the squash flowers were blooming and buzzing with pollinators, I didn’t want to treat for pests.

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The pigs have enjoyed quite a lot of pumpkins that I couldn’t save from the bugs.

The dogs, sheep, and goats are trying their best to fend of the humidity and the flies. Despite many generous applications of fly repellent and ointments, poor Sabine’s ear is rather raw. She’s gotten squirrely on me now, and if she sees me with anything at all in my hand, she won’t let me near her. She’ll be happy once fly season is done.

Piper is recovering from getting her foot stuck in the joint of a tree trunk. She’d been stuck there all day when I found her, and it took some doing to get her freed. Her skin above her ankle tore down to the bone (it’s very thin there anyway), but she was patient as I cleaned her up and got her sewn back together. The wound itself is now cleanly healed, though she’s had some secondary swelling in her hoof off and on. She’s walking just fine again, regardless.  My main concern is flystrike for everyone, though, so we’ve been keeping a vigilant eye out. I still get no shortage of enjoyment out of seeing them out there every day, and coming to the fence to beg for treats.

And, of course, I can’t help but try to infect everyone else with my enthusiasm for my fibery babies.

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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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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.

 

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!