Wednesday, June 28, 2017

All Those Glorious Tomatoes!

On Monday I did tomato harvesting, which I do every two days right now. They're coming in! I sorted out the most ripe ones and made canned tomato sauce.
 One is a partial jar we'll use today to make a pizza. Making tomato sauce is time consuming! Seriously -- I could go to WalMart and buy 5 jars of Hunts diced tomatoes with basic/garlic/oregano for $5. Or, I can spent an hour and a half in the kitchen making my own. (Sigh) But it's fun, and I enjoy using the skills and using our own produce. So I do it.
These are all small tomatoes, so I clean them in a water with a little baking soda and grind them up thoroughly in the blender. I add: basil, oregano, thyme (from our herb garden), garlic, Worchester sauce, a little canned tomato paste, and salt and pepper.
 I don't blanch or skin them. That would take WAY too much time.
On my table I have a platter of small red tomatoes, mostly Juliets, Cherry Chocolates, and Red Cherries.
 I have yellow tomatoes, mostly Yellow Pears, Green Grapes, and Mini Oranges.
 And I have a big platter of Matt's Wild Cherries.
I don't make the little babies into sauce. We just eat them straight.
Those photos are AFTER I've removed the tomatoes for sauce.
This morning (Wednesday) I went to pick tomatoes again. And now I have tomato overload!  And I won't be at the farmer's market on Saturday, so I won't be selling any, so we must do something with all these tomatoes! I think I have a day of sauce-making in my future.
 I picked these three bags this morning. That one big 'mater on the end will be a sandwich for lunch :)
They are so pretty and golden!
 

That's a table full of tomatoes! Now I go to sterilize jars and pick herbs.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Farm Chores

*Clip hens' wings. The departure of Ruby has worried me to no end. I'm feeling quite despondent about chickens in general. So Adam and I clipped Lucy's and Punkin's wings this morning, hoping to prevent them from flying over the fence. We are thick in the planning stage for a brand new coop for the babies, far away from dogs and with a small yard covered to prevent them from flying off. Speaking of the babies, they are doing fine:
The silkies are gray. I don't know what breeds the other two are.
 If they are hens, I know they will lay brown eggs, according to Mr. Bob who gave them to me.
I have a sweet friend who offered me a couple of full-size laying hens if I want them. I'm befuddled about where exactly I'd put them, and how they would integrate into the situation I have ... which is less than ideal :(
*Tend to baby chicks. I put some sand in their pen yesterday. This morning I added a little dish of layer pellets to their food choice. They've been pecking at the sand and one silkie was taking a dust bath in it. So cute!!
*Mow. Adam is mowing. This time of year, Adam is always mowing.
*Beehive check. The new swarm Adam caught on Monday has stayed in its hive! Yay!
He wears a hat/net now over his head, but no other gear.
He was not stung once.
*Garden check. I walk around the garden each day several times. This week I put my 25 basil plants into a bed. People had stopped buying herbs at the market, so I figured I'd better get them into some dirt.
Tomatoes are doing well. We're getting a good crop of Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes:

 A few large ones are looking good:

Cucumbers are particularly fine this year too:
We've picked about a dozen cukes so far. Adam made pickles.
 Slim bush beans are starting to bear.
 Watermelon plants in their tires are spreading far and wide! Tiny melons have appeared under the blooms.
 I'm happy to report that the sweet potatoes Adam put in are growing fabulously. We hope for a good crop. I love sweet potatoes!
 My luffa -- I know it's a silly plant, but look at it go! Those posts are about 8 feet tall, and it's now flopping over the top.
It's blooming.

So that's the quick garden check.
*Then I put two dill plants from their pots into the herb bed. The more pickling cukes we grow, the more dill we need.
Now I move on to laundry and other homely chores. Have a lovely day and try to keep cool!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ramping Up the Soap Business

I had a great day at the Oriental Farmer's Market on Saturday. I sold out of Bee Balm and Insect-Repellent Lotion Bars, not to mention selling a lot of soap and some lip balm too. My inventory is at the lowest it's been in a long time. Time to get to work! Thankfully, I already have two batches of soap at home, cured and ready to sell next week.
the soap scents in these new batches
I'm also out of plantain salve, so I picked some new plantain leaves, and they're now infusing into the oils I use in the salve.
It looks like something from the murky deep.
I keep my various body care recipes in the back of my handwritten cookbook. It was given to me as a wedding present 28 years ago.
I'll be making that salve, scented bath salts, lotion bars, and bee balm this week. I'll be ready for those customers on Saturday!
I've also been saving seeds as some of our garden plants go to seed. Here I'm saving radish seeds.
I also saved peas, spinach seeds, and some  Matt's Wild Cherry tomato seeds.
I sold four packages of tomatoes and four cucumbers at the market. We have so many tomatoes coming in.
My tiger lily bed has been just stunning. I failed to take a photo of it, but I did cut many of the blooms for a huge bunch in a vase for church today. They were gorgeous.
Adam and I returned home this evening from town to find chicken feathers in two spots in the pasture. It looks like Ruby became an escape artist and is on the loose. But there's no chicken carcass, and the dogs are not going crazy, barking at a barn bay or up a tree. And there's not enough feathers to indicate any real carnage. We don't know where Ruby is. She's not responding to my cooing calls of love and treats. I hope she turns up. Adam locked up the dogs tonight, and we're hoping we find her strutting around in the morning. We'll see. She's my best layer, and I do hate to lose her.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Few New Residents Move into the Farm

My farmer friend Bob gave me two chicky-babies (the yellow one and the darkest gray one), and then today my chicken-lady friend Melody gave me too more (the two gray silkies)!!! It's a big chicken day at Red Robin Farm. Aren't they sweet?
I've been enjoying mornings in the garden. We've had several days of deliciously cool temperatures with occasional rain. I love gardening in cool weather.
We took down the peas and I dried the stalks. This morning I collected some seeds for a fall planting.
 

The pods should be very, very dry before you remove the seeds for storing. I hung more pea stalks on the fence so they could finish drying out.
 And I kept the branches from the wattle fencing because surely I can use them for some other purpose now too?
 

And our watermelon plants continue to grow ...
As do our cucumbers ...
 And our bush beans.
 Here's the sweet potato trench:
 

The plants survived the journey in the mail just fine and are thriving. Adam ordered them from Park Seed.
Today Adam dug out and tilled the long middle bed-that-wasn't-exactly-a-bed. We did put some lettuce in there, and some spinach, peas, Swiss chard, etc. But it was never quite prepared as well as the other beds, mainly because we didn't use it last year (esp. the whole middle section). So now Adam is going back and doing it well, as he did the other beds. He will line it all around with metal or tile.
 

We have a cedar tree in the garden with the prettiest tiny blue berries right now.
 In addition to the baby silkies, Melody also gave me some papaya seeds. I can't wait to start them in the greenhouse and find out how they do! I love having farming friends.
That's it from the farm!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Transitioning into Summer

In the past few days, the peas have really died off, and the tomatoes have started coming in.
Peas nearly spent
It feels like spring is past and summer is setting in for the long, hard road ahead.
 Our tomatoes will be a bit mysterious this year. Some of the plants will be hybrids from last years stray seeds that ended up in Adam's compost. But right now we mostly have the tiny Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes in the dish above. They're delicious. Soon we'll be overrun with them and selling them at the farmers' market.
I picked my first Yellow Pear tomato this afternoon,
along with a few others.
Early blight still besets some of my tomato plants. I hope I don't lose many of them yet.
Adam ordered sweet potato slips in the mail. It's a bit on the late side to be putting in sweet potatoes, but we hope they will do fine. He tilled up a nice mounded row with loose soil.
 As you see in the photo above, Adam keeps a nicely mowed, fenced-in garden area. But outside that fence is about another 2 acres of pasture in high grass that he scythes twice a year. We aren't doing anything with that piece of our property yet. The dogs enjoy hunting mice out there.
I'm still taking herbs to the farmers' market on Saturdays, and selling a few. That's satisfying.
My loofah plants are taking off!
I'm quite excited about loofah. I tried to grow them before with seeds from a friend, but (I forget why) it didn't work. I want loofah for a bathing sponge, but I also like putting it into my soaps. I can't wait until the fruit comes! I'll take you through the whole process.
Our watermelon plants are looking great.
I can't wait until they are long and spilling out all over the grass. Maybe we will get some melons this year since Ned can't get into the garden to eat them.
There are down sides to Ned's absence from the garden. He is our resident snake-killer, and he does take that job very seriously. Now the snakes all know they should head to the garden, where Ned's not allowed. Yesterday he found a large (4 ft?) Yellow-bellied water snake near the barn. He was throwing it up in the air and worrying it to death (literally) when Adam noticed him. The snake looked thick and muscly to Adam, and he didn't recognize the coloring (a dull red body with a bright orange/yellow underside), so he killed it. Plus, if he hadn't, Ned would have.
We still have a resident garden snake. I've named him Benedict. The resident bunny rabbit, who is quite unashamed to nibble in the spent lettuce bed and barely hops away from me, is called Benjamin only because I can't name him Peter. He is in no danger from Benedict, who is a simple rat snake and whose mouth would never fit over Benjamin's ears. Last time I saw them both, Benjamin made me jump and scream when he hopped. I'm always on the look-out for Benedict (One does not want to reach for cherry tomatoes and meet a fang instead.), so he rarely surprises me.
Still, if Benedict is actually a Benedictina (??), I don't want 16 baby rat snakes slithering around the garden. I kind of wish Ned could go in there, hunt him down, dispatch him quietly, but leave our watermelons unmolested. He can't help he has a sweet tooth.
I am not a fan of snakes.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Mysterious Hole in the Ground

One small eyesore on our property for going on two years was a rectangular flower bed, awkwardly placed near the pasture gate, very overgrown, lined with bricks, and quite ugly. Tall weeds and privet choked out the flowers. The bricks were barely visible. I forgot to take its photo before we began digging it up. It was about 5' by 4'. I half-heartedly began pulling a couple of bricks out yesterday before I gave up. Today Adam went at it with a will:
 I heard him holler early in the process. I was worried he'd hurt himself (again), but thankfully, no -- he'd merely broken his shovel. When I walked over from the greenhouse he said, "Look at this," and showed me the strangest thing ....
 Under that overgrown flower bed (lilies and irises, vinca and weeds) lay a solid sheet of metal covering the entire bed. Adam dug and whacked and dug and exerted himself. It flexed as he stood on it -- clearly there was a hole beneath. Finally he was able to lift the edge of the metal. We'd been speculating on what we might find. A grave??? An empty hole? A cistern? A dungeon ...? An outhouse hole? Adam speculated that the Mysterious Mr. M., who was French, might have hidden a stash of French coins in the ground. Or perhaps it was Confederate gold, concealed from the Yankees? Our minds were racing! Julia came over (wearing her shark onesie, of course). She was hoping for a dungeon and dead bodies.
 A first peek indicated it was definitely a hole. The iron bars across looked ominous until I realized they were supporting the metal sheet ... duh.
The digging went slowly because I'd asked Adam to spare the flower bulbs and rhizomes as he unearthed them. I knew there were irises, plus some gladiolus bulbs and some pretty tall daisies that were about to bloom. None of them got enough sun in that location.
 

We threw the bricks to one side.
 After much effort, an exhausted Adam prised the metal sheet back so we could peer into the hole.
 What a creepy thing to discover in your back yard! We walk past this spot dozens of times each day.
Inside, it was quite dry. The deep rectangular hole is lined with a tightly sealed cement block wall. It has a lip around the bottom edge. It is about 4 - 5 feet deep. The bottom was soft when hit with the shovel. Considering where we live and the water table, it's quite surprising that a hole in our yard would be this dry.


Adam and I disagree about its purpose. He says it was an outhouse vault. I've seen (and used) my share of outhouses in West Virginia, and they never, ever looked like this. Of course, West Virginia and coastal North Carolina are quite different landscapes. Still ... why would anybody go to the bother to line an outhouse hole like that? It looks more like a cistern, or perhaps even a place for underground dry storage. Nobody -- absolutely nobody -- in this area has a basement. I don't even like the idea of being buried in a cemetery in our county. After hard, heavy rains when the water is standing in the roadside ditches for days, I look at the cemeteries and it doesn't seem possible that those caskets are not soggy. How in the world did this particular hole remain so dry? It's certainly a mystery.
I'd love to have a dry cellar storage, but now that the metal sheet has been lifted, I imagine the next heavy rains we have will seep under the edge and make that hole a moist place. It's a shame. It looked perfect for a fine potato harvest. If you have any ideas about our Mysterious Hole in the Ground, please tell!