Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dreaming about sun

No chickens here. Nobody wants to get wet. Weenies.

It's another chilly, dreary, damp day. I can see the mist dropping into the puddles on the driveway. Even the chickens are not impressed. Their door is open but after a quick perusal of the grass and surrounding fields, they beat feet back into the little red coop where it's warm and dry. Hummmmph. I'm not very patient. I know that in just a few short months I'll be longing for a cool, damp day because August will be hot and dry. But right now all I can think of is the taste of warm tomatoes with juices dripping down my arm and the smell of fresh basil and cucumbers. I really hope that we will be able to get into the garden sometime soon. I feel like I'm already behind. It's supposed to be sunny and warmer by Memorial Day. If it does dry up, Monday will be a wonderful day filled with digging, planting and sore muscles. I can't wait.

I have two garden sites this year. My old garden site that I shared with a friend was not available this year so I'm putting food in at my house; the "Home Garden" where the soil is "virgin" soil. I put all of the winter bedding from the chickens and rabbits into this spot and still it needs quite a bit of amending as it's mostly clay. And the "City Garden": a large area of wonderful, friable dirt at a friend's house that has been worked and loved for several years (see post from April 14, 2010). The garden here at my house will have those space loving plants- the three sisters: corn, pole beans and squash. And a few other plants that will go to feed us and our animals: peas, Swiss chard, mangles and sunflowers. The City Garden will have everything else: tomatoes, cabbage, B. sprouts, onions, peppers, potatoes, cauliflower, celery, herbs (cilantro, dill, basil, oregano, thyme, stevia) carrots and of course, more corn.

I just love the names of some of these seeds. They have vivid descriptive titles that set me to dreaming. I ordered corn from Johnny's selected seeds called "Painted Mountain". It's a combination field and ornamental corn. I'm also going to plant a second field corn called "Bloody Butcher". It's considered a heritage breed and as true to it's name will be bright red to mahogany at harvest in late fall. Both corns will be grown and dried in the Home Garden. The stalks and the cobs can (supposedly) be utilized by animals but the chickens weren't too impressed with either last year. Maybe I can offer the stalks to the neighbors for their pigs. (I wish I had a cow. She'd know what to do with corn leaves and stalks. A milk cow would efficiently turn all our grass and corn stalks and other greens not deemed edible by the chickens into wonderful creamy milk......OK, enough of this. The cow will come to this farm when it's time. Not before. It's just not time!)

The Swiss chard is called Bright Lights. I LOVE this chard. I have grown it successfully for many years. True to it's name, the stalks have vivid colors of yellow and orange and red. The leaves are a deep green that just screams "EAT ME, I'M DELICIOUS!!!!" This chard has fed our family for a long time. This year I'm going to grow enough to share with the chickens and rabbits. I'm even going to experiment with drying some if it to use in soups through the winter. I've heard it grows well in the winter under lights too. I haven't tried that yet. Maybe this year?

The pole beans are Kentucky Wonder. This is a wonderful heirloom variety with 7" long pods that are usually stringless (which my kids like) and are great fresh, frozen or canned. It's been a long time family favorite that I haven't grown for a while because of space limitations. But this year I'm going to drag several long, narrow fallen trees from the woods. After trimming any branches that are still attached, I'm going to strap the tops together for a couple of makeshift teepee's. Then I'll plant the bean seeds at the base of these teepee's so we'll have lots of area for those sweet little seeds to grow and bloom and make beans for us to eat. I'm also going to allow them to crawl up the corn like the American Indians used to do.

Next is the squash. Along with "the usual suspects" IE: zucchini and yellow crookneck, the kids and I'll plant pumpkins with names like Valenciano, Howden Biggie, American Tondo, Marina di Chioggoa and Wee-B-Little. Next to these will go winter squash called Waltham butternut, a green acorn squash called Tuffy, and a spaghetti variety called simply Spaghetti. Some of these will be eaten by us and some by the animals. I gave our chickens some leftover pumpkins last winter and they completely ate it down to the hull. I wished I had more pumpkins in January.

I'm not a huge fan of beets, but my mountain boy LOVES them. I've also read the wonders of feeding animals mangles. Mangles are really just a large, (really large) beet. They can reach up to 10 pounds without becoming woody. And the greens are pretty mild even in the heat of late summer. So this year I'm experimenting with a beet that can feed both my family and the animals. I ordered them from Seeds of Change out of New Mexico. They are a yellow, heirloom mangle with a milder, more subtle flavor than red beets. Supposedly you can just throw one of these monsters into the chicken coop whole, and let the chickens eat them as is. I'm not sure about that. They don't seem to impressed with whole apples until they've been quartered. So I'm guessing I'll have to cut the mangles a bit for the chickens to take interest.

Other than Mammoth sunflowers and some field peas, that will be it for the Home Garden. It sounds like a lot. And it is a lot of work. But I relish the effort it takes to grow a garden. It's meaningful work.

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