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!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Beating Last Year's Record?

I remember precisely the day last year when I ate the first red tomato from my garden. It was June 1st, my birthday. It was my garden's present to me. I was despairing of making that same date this year until I strolled through the tomato beds yesterday and saw this!
It's ripening! And it may well be red and edible before Thursday! Yippee!
I know I put this photo of my hilarious chickens (I kid you not, I first typed "children" there, before noticing my mistake) on their apple tree branch in the banner header of this blog, but I just had to post it here too. First time they'd ever all four hopped up there together.
This past week I made lots of new bath salts (in lavender/bergamot), lip balm (in peppermint, lemongrass, and coconut mango), and lots of these lovely lotion bars, all insect-repellent:
These bars sell like hot cakes once the mosquitoes come out. As soon as I say "insect repellent," customers are happy to plop down their money for a bar. And they work really well -- citronella, lemongrass, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, rosemary, and cedarwood essential oils (that's a LOT of oil), blend to keep the buggies away, and the coconut oil, infused dandelions, and beeswax make it so good for your skin. When's the last time you put on an insect-repellent product that was good for your skin? What's not to love? I sold so many on Saturday I have to make more this week. They are $5 for a 3 oz. bar that lasts a very long time.
Adam cut out two new Red Robins (well, actually cardinals) for farm decor. We took down the old one on the farm gate, hoping to sand and repaint it, but it was too far gone. He used it as a template for these new ones. Now I must paint them.
The watermelon seeds have cooperated beautifully.
And my new lambs' ears have taken happily to their new raised bed tire container.
We continue to get gorgeous eggs every day. The chickens are healthy and happy with lots of free-range space and a safe coop.
Our nice gas weed eater was stolen from our garage while we were out of town to the wedding, but a very kind friend has given Adam his old weed eater that needed a little TLC. Adam opened it and diagnosed a faulty fuel line. He will repair it this week.
As he tinkered with tiny engines and hoses, I did this ~
~ after a few farm chores yesterday.
I've decided I am now a farm wife. That's my new occupation. I spent many years thinking of myself as a teacher, and of course I will always be a mom even when my kids have flown the nest. But I'm quite ready to stay home, tend chickens, fiddle in the garden, sort seeds, mess with soil in the greenhouse, fuss with farm dogs, move plants around, nurture vegetables and battle weeds. It's my next stage of life, and I'm looking forward to it! If you need me, I'll be in the garden.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Everything's Growing But My Bank Balance

Adam just walked in from the garden and said, "You know that wild grapevine on the back garden fence? It's loaded with grapes!"
The back fence is out of control. I don't know what large shrub is under the grapevine, but it's growing on top of it in the sun, as vines love to do. Little clusters of grapes are All Over It. Adam's back there now, whacking off some to produce better grapes. I imagine the birds will find them too.
We've had no success with our grapevines in the "orchard" because they don't get enough sun.
We put some of our Wando peas on a trellis of 4" welded wire, and they are standing upright and beautiful.
They're easy to harvest. But we ran out of that welded wire and thought we'd make some wattle fencing, remember? This is what inadequate wattle fencing will do to your peas:
Next year it's welded wire all the way. We've still harvested bags of peas so far and have a long way to go. A good year for peas. You pick them when they look fat and plump like a sausage but haven't started drying out yet.
Some of my tomato plants have early blight. See it? We pulled about ten beautiful, full plants right out of the bed and threw them on the burn pile :(
The trellising system thus far is excellent for tomatoes.

Can you see how the cord curls around the main tomato stem? It's easy then to gently wrap it around a little more every day or two as the plant grows.
I had a few random volunteer tomato plants in pots. They nearly died when we went on vacation. I put them into the beds where I'd ripped out the sickly tomato plants. They're so short the cords don't reach them yet!
My two rows of bush bean plants are coming up nicely, much better than last year. I probably have them way too close together, but I overplanted because last year I had such bad luck with their germination.
 I'll plant more beans in stages so they don't all come in at the same time.
Here are two volunteer cucumber plants that sprouted in Adam's compost
 Several of these early volunteers already have baby cukes starting on them. They will go in beds later.
 A volunteer tomato and cuke are in one compost pile,
and a volunteer cuke and watermelon are in another.

 These are perhaps my healthiest volunteer tomatoes -- three plants that sprouted up from the chicken poop compost pile intended to enrich the asparagus. I wrapped a piece of leftover fence around them for support.
 I guess that chicken poop's not going anywhere for a while!
And speaking of watermelons, Adam filled two more tire planters in the garden and I planted watermelon seeds in there. What do you bet the volunteer watermelon does better? Yep.
 And Adam's willow tree sprig is doing fine in a bigger pot. He will put it in the ground soon.
 In the greenhouse (which is a true hot house these days), I'm starting herbs. I want to start herbs from seed and sell the plants at the farmers' market. Nobody does this, and I think there's a need for it. And unlike cut herbs, the plants only improve week to week. I don't like selling "perishable" items at the market. Any herbs that don't sell I'll simply put in my own herb garden if it gets too big. Below are basil, thyme, tarragon, parsley, and sage, waiting to be born in their little earthen nurseries.
 Many friends responded to my plea for pots!! I really needed the small pots -- the next stage up from the starter cells. I prefer plastic pots; the paper ones leach water away from the little plants' roots.
 There's an issue with little plastic pots. I challenge you to try to find them for sale at WalMart, Lowe's, or your local farm or hardware store. I'm referring to what I wanted: a pack of about ten 2" pots -- plastic ones. I looked and looked. Adam said (as Adam often says), "Let's check online." And we could've bought them online for 30 cents per pot! That's just too much to pay for a very small plastic pot! And if I'm selling my herb plants, that adds quite a bit to the cost per plant.
One day I was roaming in a favorite store, Dollar Tree. Everything in there really is just $1.00. And look what I found!
A pack of twelve little plastic pots -- perfect! -- for $1.00! So I bought 12 packs, of course. Items appear and disappear forever at those dollar stores. Those 144 pots, plus all the donations from friends, will give me pots for years :)
So far I have basil and some early dill to sell.
I think I have a bit of a green thumb when it comes to starting plants, plus I do enjoy it so much. If I could make any money doing that, I would be a happy woman.
Because ... I decided a few months ago to stop working at my part-time afternoon job at an afterschool program for children. It's a lovely place, and I will miss it, but physically it is so taxing. I'm on concrete/asphalt, very active, for 3 hours straight, and it's hard on my bad veins. It wears me out every day and makes me non-productive in the evenings. Even though I don't go to work until about 2:30, it dominates my day from lunch onward. I will still substitute there some, but not every single day. I only have 13 days left! Then I will be a free woman to focus my attentions on my soap/lotion/yard business, and on increasing the productivity of the farm in small ways like selling herbs. So ... here's to new enterprises!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday on the Farm

 We've had such glorious weather! Cool, low humidity, breezy -- just absolutely perfect! After church Adam took his nice long nap, and I tootled in the greenhouse. On the way back across the pasture, I slowed and then stopped, wanting to absorb all the beauty of the pecan giants stretching into the sky.
I was pushing the wheelbarrow. Then Julia came along with dogs.

Remember volunteer tomatoes? They're everywhere. However ... one spot on the farm you'd never expect to find a volunteer tomato plant is the burn pile. Right? Yep ... there it is!

Yes, indeed. That's a tomato! How in the world?
Adam's tomato trellising is stupendous.
 Below is the second tomato bed. He just put up the posts with the cable strung along their tops.
 Here's a close-up of my tallest tomato, a beefsteak. Its cord is already well-wound around its stem. I think this method will work famously!
 And a couple of my beefsteak plants are already setting fruit.
 I have peas!! These are the Wando variety.

Around the little outbuilding Adam has been clearing the brush and weed trees. One tree had already fallen over, so he cut it off, leaving part of the leaning stump. It's right next to a pretty-shaped dwarf apple of some sort.
apple on the left, other tree on the right.
 Anyway, the stump sprouted green branches. I looked at it today and realized it's a willow tree!
 We're quite fond of willows. The friend who recently gave me two chickens also gave Adam a willow twig to put into some good soil, hoping for a new tree. The twig did take, and we have a tiny willow tree back in the greenhouse, which is lovely.
Adam plans to put it into a nice damp part of the pasture, as willows like soggy feet. But now we have a huge supply of green, supple willow branches! I'd love to learn to make willow baskets. Adam has plans for the willow too, I think involving wattle and daub construction. And we are now so much further on the way to that itty-bitty dream :) Ain't life grand? I'm looking at a ragged, fallen tree one afternoon, and tada!! I discover a gem I'd been wanting.
Oh - one more thing. Today Adam put up shade cloth on one end of the front porch for the summer.
 He ordered it online. From the outside, it's quite dark and gives more privacy while still allowing air circulation, but at a fraction of the cost of screen.
 But from the inside it's not dark at all.

Isn't that interesting? We're very pleased with it. We've saved the plastic sheeting and Adam will put it back up next winter. The wiggle-wire and channel remains on the house, and both the plastic and the shade cloth are attached using it. It's a great system. The only drawback is his having to fight off the rose bushes while he climbed the ladder, poor fellow! I heard him muttering, 
"I hate rose bushes!"