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I could really use some bug spray that actually works. This year, because of a combination of factors, is THE WORST year for mosquitoes. We had a lot of snowfall that insulated the eggs all winter, then the snow melted and we had a very wet month or so where it rained almost every day. There was, and still is, standing water everywhere. Follow all that up with a swing in temperatures from near freezing to 90’s, and it made for the perfect mosquito storm.

Be happy that I could brave it long enough to take some pictures. This is probably all you’ll get for a while – at least until the swarms die down a bit.

Titan sunflowers along the north fence.

Titan sunflowers along the north fence.

Hard to see them, but the onions are doing well.

Hard to see them, but the onions are doing well.

Two types of cauliflower. Both seem to be happy.

Two types of cauliflower. Both seem to be happy.

Broccoli has nice, firm leaves now after a couple rains.

Broccoli has nice, firm leaves now after a couple rains.

Charleston cabbage. My sign didn't fare so well... gotta make a new one there.

Charleston cabbage. My sign didn’t fare so well… gotta make a new one there.

One of the dozen Mammoth Red Rock cabbages.

One of the dozen Mammoth Red Rock cabbages.

Tendercrisp celery.

Tendercrisp celery.

My first little Ping Tung eggplant!

My first little Ping Tung eggplant!

One of several Purple Beauty sweet bell peppers growing. There are at least a hundred peppers in the garden already, and I only put the plants in last week! They lost some foliage in the shock of the transplanting, but there are new leaves coming up where the old ones fell off. They're bouncing back quickly.

One of several Purple Beauty sweet bell peppers growing. There are at least a hundred peppers in the garden already, and I only put the plants in last week! They lost some foliage in the shock of the transplanting, but there are new leaves coming up where the old ones fell off. They’re bouncing back quickly.

200 strawberry plants of four different varieties. I'm already having to pick off flowers! They're taking off considering only a few days ago they were bare roots with no leaves. Also in the background you can see some of the soft fruit patch. Leaves are just starting to emerge on the currants, grapes, elderberries, and gooseberries.

200 strawberry plants of four different varieties. I’m already having to pick off flowers! They’re taking off considering only a few days ago they were bare roots with no leaves. Also in the background you can see some of the soft fruit patch. Leaves are just starting to emerge on the currants, grapes, elderberries, and gooseberries.

It was at this point that I was nearly carried off by the mosquitoes, so I apologize for the quality of the picture. I had wanted to clean up my planting mess before taking pictures, but I'm not quite done yet. Still have a couple more rows to get in.

It was at this point that I was nearly carried off by the mosquitoes, so I apologize for the quality of the picture. I had wanted to clean up my tomato planting mess before taking pictures, but I’m not quite done yet. Still have a couple more rows to get in.

So that’s all for the garden for now. This weekend I hope to finish getting the tomatoes in, then get the rest of the garden rowed up and planted in cucumbers, carrots, corn, squash, melons, pumpkins, peas, beans, and other little seed items. Plus, I still have to till up the grain section and get the grains going. I like to think I’ve been keeping up with weeding, but I’ve grossly neglected the soft fruit area. Yikes! That entire area will be covered with mulch someday soon, I hope. I need to find a source for straw, and to rent a wood chipper. The orchard needs mulching badly, too.

Today is the kids’ last day of school. I’m so nervous about this summer because I never got much feedback from other parents when I tried passing out our phone number to set up play dates. I hope our boys don’t get too lonely this summer. It’s really difficult making new friends and fitting into a new community, especially when it’s so rural that you can’t even see your neighbors, much less any parks or natural congregation points.

Tomorrow is another farmer’s market. I didn’t go to the last one because I didn’t have any plants left to sell. The last few extra herbs I have are finally starting to get big enough to sell, so I’ll bring those tomorrow. I’ve also been spending some time painting up decorative rocks. I made some for myself, and had so much fun with it that I made some up to bring with me to sell. What do you think?

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They’re rocks from our camping adventures and garden. I’m one of those nutty people who keeps a bucket or two specifically for rocks that I’m drawn to. The buckets come with us when we go camping or to the lake. And look – they came in handy. The top picture had some garden markers that I painted up. I use signs on stakes in my garden, but if I had a smaller one I’d probably use these rocks. They turned out really cute. The bottom picture are strawberry rocks. They are to spread in the strawberry patch to deter birds from eating the strawberries. I did really well on the colors – they match real strawberries. The theory is that if you put these out first, the birds will peck them and figure out they’re not edible, so they won’t try again when the real berries come along. We’ll see how they work. I don’t know if I’ll let our strawberries bear fruit this year, but I’ll scatter a few of these rocks through the beds just to see what happens. I made hundreds of these strawberry rocks, so I’ll have some baggies full to sell at the market.  I am looking forward to this market. Should be an easy-going one where I can wander around a bit. I haven’t been able to wander at the last few because my table was so busy.

Hope everyone has a great weekend! Go outside, soak up some vitamin D, and get some dirt under your nails!

If you’ve ever grown tomatoes in the garden, you know that tomatoes get big. They sprawl. They are to the garden what flu is to the human population. If you don’t keep them in check, you’ll end up with plants everywhere, fruits rotting on the ground, and tomato seedlings as enemy weed number one while for years to come. You’ll also know that those rinky dink tomato cages they sell in the stores are absolute crap at keeping tomatoes in check and upright. So what’s a tomato-lover to do? Make your own!

If you are handy with wood and have a lot of scraps, I have seen some truly beautiful contraptions for keeping tomatoes caged. No matter what you do, however, wood has a definite age limit. It will rot. It will break. It will bend. If you go with wood cages, be prepared for yearly maintenance and/or re-building.

If you want sturdy cages that will last for many years without problems, I suggest going with metal. You have many options with metal, including welded wire, woven wire, fixed knot, galvanized, ungalvanized, and just about every size of hole spacing and guage you can think of. When choosing a metal mesh for your tomato cages, stick with welded-wire. Woven and fixed knot ARE sturdy for fencing applications, but they just don’t cut it for small, round tomato cages. After that, the choices are up to you. I can tell you this, though – I’ve tried the galvanized 2″x4″ fencing for tomato cages and it’s not pretty when harvest time comes. Sure, you can fit your hand in to reach for a tomato, but how are you going to get that tomato out when it’s wider than two inches?

I have settled on 6″x6″ concrete reinforcing mesh in 5’x150′ rolls. It’s not galvanized, so it will rust. Do the tomatoes care if it rusts? Nope. Do I care? Not in the least. Even if they’re rusty, I’ll still get many years out of them before they completely poop out on me. It comes in 10 guage, so it’s pretty thick. In preparation for making tomato cages using this mesh, you’ll want to make sure you have the following:

– A good pair of bolt cutters.
– A sturdy pair of leather work gloves.
– If your hands aren’t very strong, consider using a pair of pliers for bending the wire.

Once you are assembled and ready, start rolling the fencing out on a large, flattish surface. I used part of our roundabout driveway for this. I wanted my tomato cages to be at least 18″ in diameter, so I cut each section of the mesh after the 9th full square. I end up with pieces that look like this:

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Here’s what it looks like after the cutting stage in our driveway.

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See where the long ends are? I fold each of those in at a 90 degree angle, then pull the other side around and hook them together. Then I twist the rest of the long ends around the other end to secure it together. That’s it. No special tools (unless you need to use pliers), and no weaving wire around and around. I push on the connection a bit to get the tomato cage to take on a rounder shape instead of a tear-drop shape, then they’re ready to rock. I have a picture of the finished cages a couple posts down.

How much do these cost? Well, these rolls of mesh were $79 each. I get 32 cages out of each roll. That comes out to about $2.47 per cage. Versus $5 per crappy store-bought cage… that’s a steal!

Another day or two and I should finally be done getting all of the tomatoes in. It’s taking me a while between weeding, kids, cleaning house, and the damn clouds of mosquitoes. The tomatoes that have already been moved from the house to the garden are getting nice, deep green coloring and are looking a lot healthier. It’s difficult to get them in since they’re all so tall, so I take my time and try to be patient. Next year, if I even think about planting tomatoes this early again, I hope someone gives me a good forehead thunk. I’ll post pictures when I’m done. Wait until you see how well everything is growing!

Oh, and because the chickens are one week old now, here’s a video. 🙂

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