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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I feel like super Mom today. We all woke up at 7:00 this morning, ate a good breakfast, got dressed, then headed straight outside to work in the garden. Oh, it was so nice out! The temperature was just right, the sky was clear as could be, and the wind was just a gentle breeze coming out of the north. The boys got to ride back and forth in the wagon as we shuttled all of my gardening supplies and the plants out to the garden. They were so good when I tilled! Usually my two year old throws himself down on the ground and just starts bawling as soon as I start the tiller up, but this time he just stood there with a pout on his face and boogers running down his top lip. (He’s getting over a cold, so he has had boogies to spare the past couple days.) After I shut down the tiller he gave me a hug then went on to toss rocks out of the soil. Both of the kids entertained themselves like that while I started aligning stakes and digging holes.

My three year old helped me a lot by throwing compost in the holes I dug, then by watering the holes until no more water drained. I came behind him and planted out tomatoes. When I had a whole row (6 plants), we’d take a break, get a drink of water, make up some labels, and cut some strings to tie the plants up. My two year old just sat down and played in the dirt for all of this… easy to please. Some of the dirt ended up in my watering bucket, but who am I to complain? I’m so glad we have so much room to play with, because I’m giving all of the plants their proper spacing this year. Instead of trying to fit everything into a tiny little plot, each plant is going to actually have some room around it to grow. My tomatoes are all 3’ or so apart – I eyeballed it. I’ll admit I planted the corn a little close together (4-6”), but that was because I want it all to grow up in strong banks to combat the wind. The peas and onions are all 6” apart.

Anyway, I have 24 tomato plants in now. I’m hoping to get another 12 in by nightfall. I think that’s a pretty decent day’s work, don’t you? While we were out there we had a lot of visitors. The lawn guys showed up and mowed down all of the grass in the orchard and behind the barns. They took the weed wacker when they left, so they could put a new pull string on it and get it working for me. It’ll be nice to finally have that to trim around the barns and trees. We also got to meet the brother of our landlord. He stopped by to borrow their car. Seemed like a nice guy, but I didn’t get much time to chat since he got here just as I was heading inside to put the kids down for a nap.

I’m probably going to take a drive to Eaton Acres Farm tonight to pick up some more straw. I like the idea of using bales as a windbreak, and I’ll also need some to use as mulch over the tomatoes. That soil back there dries up so fast it’s not funny. Hopefully some mulch will help.

Ok, checking back in! I ended up only doing 35, because that’s all that I brought out there. I didn’t feel like bringing my muddy self back in the house for just one more plant. They look pretty good out there. I hope they start perking up soon, growing big and strong. They look so little next to the four foot stakes they are tied to. Hmm… guess I’ll have to take pictures. I still have to get the straw mulch on them. The boys and I drove out and picked up four bales. I think next time I go out there I’ll bring the trailer so I can get a lot more. Too bad you can’t just call up a straw delivery service like you do with pizza. “Hi, I’d like ten bales of straw with a mouse infestation on the side, please.” Yeah, they had some bales with obvious signs of mouse inhabitation. I didn’t get those ones. Yuck. I have enough mice to deal with already. Darn things.

Speaking of mice and rodents and scritchy scratchy things… we have something that somehow gets into the ceiling above the livingroom and the floor of my bedroom. I hear it at night and whenever it’s quiet during the daytime. It’s creeping me out, because it sounds bigger than a mouse. A squirrel maybe? The bugger is I don’t know where it’s getting in and how to kill it. Any suggestions?

I hope tomorrow is nice, too. I can get the rest of the ‘maters in, then start on the peppers. We’re going to have lots of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Know what that means? SALSA! SALSA! Yay! I love me some salsa.

Toodles ‘til next time!

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

My hubby comes home tomorrow for a whole week! Yahoo! We’ll go pick him up at the airport around 4:30pm. I haven’t told the boys yet, but I’m going to surprise them today with it. I’m sure they’ll be super excited. My three year old really misses him. When our rooster died, he would go up to the baby chicks and ask them if they missed their daddy, too. Made me want to cry, poor kid. I’m hoping we’ll be able to do some really fun stuff for the week that he’s back. Maybe drive down to Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek for the day, or to Chicago to see the aquarium and planetarium. We will have a lot to do around the house while he’s here, but it’d be great to take a day or two to do something fun and make some good memories.

At the end of the week, my hubby will leave for a few days of CRC, then he deploys over to Kuwait to await the next available flight into Iraq. He’s not looking forward to CRC because he’ll be getting the smallpox vaccine. I guess that really knocks a person out for a few days. He’s been in Utah for the past five weeks, and he’s already sunburned. I shudder to think what he’ll look like after a week in the Iraqi desert. I know if it were me, no matter how much sunscreen I used, I would look like a well-cooked lobster. Heck, I’m already getting a good farmers tan, and I’m using spf 50!

Tonight I am going to give my boys a haircut. We have a family photo session scheduled next week. I’m sure I’ll have to trim up my hubby’s hair as well when he gets back. It’ll be nice to have an updated family picture, since the last one we had was over a year ago and the boys have already changed so much since then. I just hope our two year old can sit still for that long… he’s a fidgety tyke.

Sounds like the boys are finally up! I woke up at 6am this morning thinking they would probably be up soon, too, since it was already sunny and the birds were singing so damn loud. Of course, since I woke up early, they’re going to sleep in until 8. Stinkers. Isn’t it funny how kids always do the opposite of what you expect?

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Friday, May 21, 2010

In about a half hour we’ll be leaving to go pick up Daddy from the airport. We’re so excited! I was hoping to have all of the tomatoes planted before he got here, but yesterday I was having trouble breathing and I got tired so fast. I think the cold I was fighting weakened my immune system to the point where another infection took over. My immune system needs to be fired. It’s not doing its job. Anyway, it’s been raining all day long so we haven’t been able to get out to the garden. My plants will just have to wait. Maybe this weekend will be nice and we can all go out together.

We should be getting the internet out here at the house soon. No more library! Well, at least no more sitting in front of the library with my laptop on the armrest and the kids screaming to be let out after just two minutes. Supposedly we’ll be able to get DSL. We’ll see. I hope we can, because satellite internet is so slow, so restrictive, and so expensive! We also got some TV channels as part of the package deal. The kids are excited to be able to watch Word World, Curious George, and Sid the Science Kid. I always swore I wouldn’t become one of those parents who puts their kids in front of the TV in order to get something done, but here I am doing just that. Guess this would be a good time to say I’ll never let my kids become super intelligent scientists who cure cancer and find a way to fix the global economy. Or that I’ll never let my kids grow up to be responsible, sensitive, and well-informed citizens who marry wonderful women and make me lots of cute grandbabies. Hey, it’s worth a shot.

Ok, we’re off to the airport! Toodles!

Friday, May 14, 2010

How in the world do people keep gardens in windy places? So far I have lost a few tomato plants and an entire row of fencing for beans/peas to the wind. I’ve started trying to set out my plants to get some sunshine and fresh air, but the wind just tears them apart. Is this normal? I’ve never had to worry about my plants being massacred by 30 mph winds all afternoon, and let me tell you, I wish I didn’t have to now. It almost makes me scared to put my plants out. If I could just garden indoors I would. But… I can’t. My tomatoes and everything else that is inside are growing like crazy and I’m running out of room fast.

So… for any of my readers who may have some of the same experiences I am having – how do you deal with it? How do you stake or cage your tomatoes so they don’t just blow away? How do you wind-proof fences and trellises for peas, beans, cucumbers, squash, and flowers? I can’t build a wall or plant any sort of permanent windbreak, but I suppose I could probably try to plant all the corn on the west side of the garden. Since the wind goes west to east mainly, maybe that would break some of it up once the corn gets high enough. I’m definitely open to suggestions.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Yesterday, for fun, I decided to hit the garden center at WalMart. I was expecting to see a small variety of tomatoes, peppers, squash, and maybe some herbs, but geez was I surprised! Did you know that for $3.25 you can buy 6 little 5” stalks of corn to plant? Ouch! No wonder people think it’s so expensive to garden. Besides the fact that they were asking so much for something so cheap and easy to grow, there was also the fact that YOU DON’T TRANSPLANT CORN in Michigan. All the farmers around here are just now getting their corn into the ground, and guess what they grow it from? Seed! I have already planted three wide rows of sweet corn today, and hopefully I’ll be able to plant a few more this afternoon.

I’ve actually done a bit more than that, though, believe it or not. My boys helped me dig up the flower garden (again!) and replant some flowers. Did you know that chickens, ants, and other unseen creatures LOVE to eat seeds? Yeah, well I guess I’m still learning. So we planted some that were started a couple weeks ago. Hopefully these will take off now. I have a lot more seeds for flowers, but I’m really short on space in the diningroom/greenhouse. Maybe I’ll just have to wait until I get the tomatoes and peppers out to start some more flowers. This afternoon I would like to go get some of the bricks that are just piled up willy nilly in the barn and use those to line the flower garden with.  Maybe then my two year old won’t go plowing through the dirt like a bat out of hell, tearing up all of my hard work. Yeah, right.

Yesterday I also stopped in front of the library to do a quick internet search on tomato gardening in high wind areas. I found that in the Texas plains, they use tomato cages and wrap them with clear plastic or small-holed mesh, then when the tomato begins to outgrow the bounds of the cage the plastic is taken off. I think this is brilliant. My only problem now is finding some cheap plastic to wrap them with. Well, plus cages. I think I might use some of the wire fencing I found in the barn to make cages with. Maybe I’ll post on Craig’s list for some used wire. Another thing they said was to use rebar or long wooden slats as stakes to hold the tomato cages in place so they don’t blow away. Add rebar to the list. Hehe. Yeah, I really don’t think I’m going to go out and spend a ton of money on stakes and whatnot, but I’ll try it on a few of the plants to see what the difference is.

I didn’t find anything that said corn would make a good windbreak, but I’m trying it anyhow. Can’t hurt, right? All the corn is going on the west side of the garden. I still need a LOT more ground tilled up, and the little tiller we have available to us courtesy of our landlords/friends just won’t break the ground apart as well as a tractor. There’s too many weeds and whatnot growing. The land has been fallow for what looks like at least a few years. And with the high clay content in our soil, it needs to be busted by discs. I baked some banana bread the other day, so I’m hoping to go suck up to my neighbor a bit more tonight and see if he’ll come over and till for me. I’m crossing my fingers.

It’s a beautiful day out today, and I can’t wait to get back outside. Come on, kids, wake up from your nap already!

Toodles!

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Henry was hit by a truck yesterday, and is now resting in peace under the earth. I figured that he would probably meet this end, what with his unhealthy habit of greeting all of the fast-moving cars on the highway in front of the house. Plus, I just had to go and name him, get attached to him. He was becoming somewhat of a pet, so his loss sucks pretty bad. Yes, I cried after I buried him. The worst part of it is that the boys saw him get hit, and the guy driving the red truck who hit him didn’t even slow down. I don’t know if he saw us standing there or not, but either way I still think he should have stopped. I don’t know what he could have said to me. Maybe something like “I’m sorry I was flying so fast and not watching where I was going because that chicken should have been visible for at least a half a mile, and if it were a child…” Well, thank goodness it wasn’t one of the kids, although my two year old tries his darndest to get out in the road when I turn my attention from him for just a moment.

I’m still upset about it. I had hoped to be able to breed our own chickens, but without a rooster I don’t see how that will be possible. And Henry was such a gorgeous bird, with his shiny golden feathers and green eyes. I guess living on a farm, I will just have to get used to things like this, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Monday, May 03, 2010

I love how busy nice days are. I don’t have time to sit around and mope. I don’t have time to think about how much I need to get done. Instead, I spend my entire day accomplishing one or two tiny things and chasing happy little boys around the yard. Today was half nice, half stormy. During the nice parts, we were actually able to get quite a bit done. First, we went and got the rototiller’s handle welded back on so it’s useable. Then we went and picked up a few more bales of straw (you can never have too many!) and some ant killer. When we got back home, the skies had cleared a bit so I tossed the kids in their new little fenced-in playground and took the tiller to the garden. I think I tilled up enough to get the onions and taters in the ground tomorrow. The tiller is a front-tine, so it’s like holding onto the tail of a bucking horse, but at least it broke up most of the bigger clods on the surface. I tell you what, my back is sore. Not only from the bucking horse tiller, but from lifting that sucker in and out of the back of my van all by myself to take it to the welder. There are definitely times when a strong man around the house is helpful. Eek… this means I’ll have to open my own pickle jars from now on! Hehe.

The boys also helped me today with breaking sticks to use as stakes in the garden. To make even rows, I’ll be placing the sticks at even intervals and tying bright pink twine between them. As long as I plant right underneath the twine, I should have nice, straight rows. Well, that’s the theory anyway. I’m hoping that my potatoes will be okay to plant. Some of them are getting quite ripe, starting to leak through the paper bag and get really soft. They all have good eyes though, most of them have so many that I think I’ll be cutting them into halves or quarters. I think I am going to try using the straw hilling method for them this year, but with a twist. Since it gets so dang windy up on the hill where our garden sits, I’ll have to hill a bit of dirt up on top of each straw layer to keep it down. We’ll see how it works. I just know that straw yields bigger, healthier potatoes, and also makes them way easier to dig out. With our clay-tastic soil, I’d rather make it as easy on myself as I can.

I’ve also been stocking up on canning jars and supplies. I try to grab a flat every time I go grocery shopping, but I forget a lot. I’m so excited for canning season to start up. Last year I went nuts with the produce from my parents’ garden. I hope they’ll let me steal some more apples from their orchard again this year, because YUMMY! Those were some good treats. Well, except the applesauce. You want to hear a funny beginners mistake? The applesauce recipe I followed said to core, peel, and slice the apples, then load them all in a big pot and put enough water in them to cover them at least an inch. I did that. Then it said to grind the apples up. I did that. Then it said to heat it, add the spices and sugar, and put it in hot jars. Did that… but I left out something totally crucial. The water! I didn’t mix the ground-up apples back in with their boiling water. I tossed the water out and used that empty pan to cook the apples and whatnot. I ended up with apple paste. My relatives still said it was good, but I was not a big fan of the goopy texture. This year, I’ll keep the water.

I’m really looking forward to experimenting with salsa, too. My mom is a salsa pro after making it every year since I was little. But she’s never used such colorful heirloom tomatoes, and most years she isn’t able to grow enough peppers so she has to buy them from the store. I am really hoping that I can pull out an exceptional green thumb this summer and have all the ingredients for salsa be home grown. Well, except the limes! I think my ego would swell a lot if I were able to gift home grown, home canned foods for the holidays this year. I’m also hoping to grow some of my own grain on a trial basis. Maybe a 10’ x 20’ patch of wheat, a little buckwheat, some rye. We’ll see if I can get to that, though. For now, the veggies have high priority, seeing as we spent so much on the seeds.

Oh, and pickles! I plan on trying to make a lot of different pickled stuff. Cukes, of course, are at the top of my list, but I’d also like to do some peppers, cauliflower (my hands down fave thing to eat pickled), dilly beans, onions, and garlic. The owners of the house here have some HUGE pickling crocks that are being used as toy holders for now. That will change once I start getting the harvest in mid-summer. Their large size means I’ll be able to make huge batches. Maybe I’ll even be able to sell off some of my canned goods…

Now I’m off in lala land, dreaming about things that haven’t even happened. And here I had hopped on the computer wanting to write about this new book I’m reading by Jerry A. Coyne called Why Evolution is True. I got it so I can brush up on my evolution facts. You know, get an arsenal of proof for the next time the JW’s show up with their creationist talk. I’m still giggling over the way my Fundamentalist Christian mother-in-law tried warning me about how “strange” the Jehovah crew’s beliefs are. As an outsider, they actually look a lot alike to me. I mean, they both read the same book, they both believe it’s inerrant, and they both believe in creationism. They’re both crazy, one no more than the other. But a Fundy couldn’t see that, I suppose. At least I had the sense not to laugh at her when she warned me. I try to play nice.

Maybe my next post will be about the book. I’m only halfway through it as it is, but it’s really good! A must read for anyone interested in battering down some creationist walls. Seriously, a person would have to be blind, deaf, and severely dumb to accept creation if they have read all of the research and seen the fossils. Yet… ignorance is bliss.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Do you ever have a nightmare that is so scary you just freeze? You are frozen, unable to look away from the horrifying image before you, unable to cover your eyes or even move your leaden body? Yeah, I had one of those today, but I was wide awake. I was doing the dishes when I looked outside and noticed that the chickens’ door had blown shut in the wind, and they were all standing outside in the pouring rain. I slipped on my mud boots really fast and ran out to open their door and let them into their dry coop, but halfway back to the house I had a weird feeling. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and goose bumps broke out all over my skin. That was when I looked around. Everything seemed to have a green tint to it, like the air was suddenly full of little droplets of green tea. The sky was very dark, and the wind was starting to pick up, so I automatically looked up at the clouds. My heart thudded to a stop, my limbs locked in place, and panic shot like a bolt of lightning from my head to my toes. The clouds directly above the house were swirling as if in a blender, faster and faster. I heard a roaring sound, and I think that was what broke me out of my daze. I ran inside, feeling almost dizzy from the adrenaline coursing through my veins, and herded the boys into the bathroom. I’m still not sure if the roaring was the wind, or maybe it was just the blood in my ears. Whatever it was, it died down. I looked out the bathroom window (yeah, I know, that wasn’t the best place to go… I wasn’t thinking straight) and the clouds looked a lot lighter all of a sudden. The rain and the wind both let up. So we came out of the bathroom and I called my husband to tell him how close I came to crapping my pants in fear.

The power ended up going out just a couple minutes after I got off the phone with my hubby. I’m not sure if a tornado actually did end up forming and touching down, or if it was just the terrible wind, but oh my goodness just thinking about it is getting my arm hairs up. I hate that we would be so vulnerable if a twister came through. It’s consuming me now. We could go into the basement next time, I suppose, but the house might come down on us. I’m plain terrified of natural disasters, even more so since it’s just me here with the kids. I know one thing, next time I’ll try to snatch the phone before going into hiding. That was immensely dumb of me, just rushing in there with nothing. I might have needed to call someone for help if we had been trapped or hurt.

Anyway, we’re all okay. I don’t think the kids even registered that I was scared out of my mind and shaking. That’s good. They are upstairs sleeping now. I’m pretty sure they were out as soon as their little heads hit the pillows. All day we have been hearing thunder, and I don’t think they were able to nap well through all the racket in the sky. They were tired, but I’m still sitting here all keyed up, ready to jump up and do acrobatics at a moment’s notice. And that is after spending all day cleaning, moving furniture around, playing with the kids, and running up and down the stairs so many times I lost count. I hope this giddy feeling wears off soon so I can get some sleep.

The only other thing I want to mention is that even though it may seem like I have everything figured out some of the time, most of the time I am just floundering around like a fish out of water. It’s been nearly three weeks since I last saw my husband, and here I thought I was doing so well remembering all of the things that needed to get done. I’ve kept up with laundry, done all the dishes, swept, mopped, vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed the bathroom, changed sheets regularly, kept meals coming at regular intervals, fed and watered the chickens, and even snuck in a few of the items from my to-do list. But I forgot all about the plants in the “greenhouse.” Yep. They were all in dire need of water. I don’t know how I didn’t even think about them all this time. I’m sure I probably lost half a dozen tomato plants, and I might need to restart the artichokes. I’m so upset with myself. Here I was all excited about gardening, getting things planted out in the dirt, hefting 50# bags of compost up the hill to the garden site… and I forget all about watering the plants inside the house.

My hands smell like tomato plants now, because I just spent a lot of time gently watering them and trying to get them to stand back up. I really hope they recover. I feel so awful for letting them waste away like that. It’s like plant torture, and I have the chlorophyll on my hands.

Okay, well, I’m finally starting to feel a little sleepy. I hope everyone in the area is safe, and that no one was injured in a tornado. Gosh, that was scary. Night, y’all.

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