I’ve waited to post about the baby robins because I didn’t want to presume anything or jinx it. But it seems after the mama robin laid three eggs in the nest on our back porch beam, we now have two babies who have feathers and are poking their heads up to be fed. They don’t make a sound, and most of the time they are hiding deep in the nest while the mom and dad go about getting food, or just sitting on top of them resting. When the parents were gone for a bit today, I snatched this “selfie” with my phone over the nest. We mostly try to leave them be and not make a lot of noise on the porch.
While not as photogenic, I also discovered we have tiny tiny tadpoles in the pond. I was lifting some algae with my net, and uncovered a whole group of them. Here is a close-up, but just imagine them about 1/4 inch from head to tail. Apparently they eat algae, so they must be happy where they are. Hurray! I would guess they are tree frog tadpoles, since the tree frogs have been singing, but I couldn’t find any confirmation of that in online searching–we’ll have to wait until they get a bit bigger.
Finally, I planted some kale and lettuce and broccoli seedlings this morning, after adding more compost to raised bed, then using chopped leaves as a mulch. I put netting over them to deter animal neighbors–it doesn’t keep away cabbage moths, but seems to work for groundhogs and squirrels and such. Plant babies finally in the ground!
Two of the pond plants are starting to flower: the cardinal flower, and the arrowhead plant. The cardinal flower is supposed to be a favorite for hummingbirds. I hope they find it. The frogs continue to bring delight by their patient sitting poses, or quick jumping into the depths when startled. One day I counted a total of 13 frogs–usually I can find 3 big ones, and from 5 to 10 small ones, depending on the day and time of day. My little Zoom camera stopped working, so I am using the iPhone camera, which doesn’t work well for close-ups. But check out the flowers on the arrowhead plant. And, can you find the hidden frog in this photo?
If you are still looking for the frog, here is a clue: her eyes and head are hidden by green plant leaves, and only her legs and body are barely visible against the stones. At first I thought her legs were dead plant leaves. With all of the pain and sorrow in the world, these simple beauties bring nurture to my spirit.
Margy and I were delighted to be part of the Resilience Hub‘s Permaculture Open House last Saturday, and welcomed about a dozen people to our yard to share the highs and lows of permaculture gardening. Including, of course, sitting by the pond and talking about pond building. Everyone was careful about our COVID protocols, and we met some really great people.
Since then we have harvested our elderberries–Margy cut the berry clusters one evening, and then the next morning I read online that they should be processed or frozen within twelve hours. So my morning was spent gently separating the berries from of their clusters, rinsing them in a big pot, and then freezing them until I had time to make elderberry syrup. This was our first harvest from the bush, which grew huge this season.
My other big harvesting job this week has been processing more kale. Because of the netting I put over the raised bed, I am cutting the lower leaves of all the plants at once, rather than bit by bit as I have done in prior years. I put them into this blue plastic bushel basket. Then, one by one, I cut them up, rinse a batch in a salad spinner, and then sauté them batch by batch before freezing in quart freezer bags. I’ve only finished about half this bunch–and there will of course be more to harvest later.
Finally, I will say that our zucchini harvests have been just the right amount so far for us to be eating as we go, but our cucumbers are going wild! We don’t pickle them, but just eat them raw–if you live nearby, please come and get some from us! They are really delicious, but we’ll never keep up. The photo below is only some of them!
After grieving for the lost peaches, I wanted to remember that many other harvests are doing abundantly well. I am trying a new method with my zucchini plants: tie the stems to stakes, and prune the leaves below the active flowers and fruits. So yesterday, I pruned out many lower leaves, and finally tried the staking idea–the zucchinis seem to grow with a mind of their own, rather than with anything like straight stems, but I was able to do a bit of it. The method is supposed to reduce powdery mildew and maybe other issues. As I write, I am trying out a recipe for zucchini/cheddar/chive bread. Our zucchinis have been abundant.
After putting a netting over the raised bed when the ground hog came by, we haven’t seen her again. The kale is doing fine–since it takes a bit of work to undo the netting, I have only harvested in big batches. I’ve sauteed some batches to freeze. There is more in the fridge waiting for me to do another batch.
We’ve already harvested several cucumbers from this lovely set of vines growing on the south end of the hugelkultur mound. We have just been eating them raw–so much sweeter than the ones we can buy at the store. And a few weeks ago, I put down cardboard and old grocery bags to lay out paths all around the mound, and from the garage door to the patio and the paths, then covered them with a thick layer of wood chips. These wood chips were from the invasive Norway maples we took down earlier.
The raspberries are finished bearing fruit. Finally, I just want to mention the chives, parsley, thyme and oregano, which continue to yield throughout the summer. I truly am grateful for these gifts from the plant world, that bring us such tasty and healthy food.
Well, after all my efforts with the sweet cherry trees, I harvested a total of three cherries. Very sad. That is all for the season. I had given them foliar sprays, compost and seaweed on the ground, and companion plants. I sprayed them with kaolin clay to guard against pests, put out yellow sticky paper for black cherry aphids, and hung about 50 red wooden fake cherries to deter birds coming round. I watered them when we were having this drought. We didn’t start out with a lot of blossoms, and I think there were only 10-20 cherries that started forming this season–not very many. But by the time they ripened, I could only find three. I ate one, and the other two are in the photo next to the raspberries.
The raspberries, on the other hand, I do hardly anything for–I pruned out the old canes in the fall, and they got a couple foliar sprays when there was some left from the trees. I watered them a couple times during the drought. But now they are producing abundant berries, and this harvest was just the one day’s worth. So frustrating. Especially since I like cherries more than raspberries. I’ve grown raspberries before, but cherries are still new. I do not seem to know the secret. If anyone can tell me, please comment!
I also harvested a big bunch of kale today. After the groundhog sighting, I covered that raised bed with netting and stakes. And a good thing I did! The next day, I caught sight of the groundhog standing up against the framing looking through the netting at the kale. I chased him off, and I haven’t seen him the last few days. I’ve also put urine liquid around the area. So far it seems to be working.
Today, I took off the netting, harvested a bunch of the lower leaves of the kale, did a bit of weeding, and finished thinning the carrots that are also growing there. With kale, I will sauté a bunch of it, and then immediately freeze, for use in winter. I eat kale almost every day! I’m so happy it is doing well. But if you know the secret for sweet cherries, please tell me!
Margy and I were chatting in the coolness of our kitchen, when suddenly I thought I saw a squirrel on our back deck, running right under the plastic “owl” that I had bought, supposedly to scare squirrels away from the orchard. That’s what caught my attention. But looking closer, we realized it wasn’t a squirrel, it was a groundhog! I ran outside onto the deck, and it ran too, but I managed to catch this slightly blurry picture to confirm our suspicions. It ran across the patio, through the back yard and over to the trees on the edge.
Margy and I are often torn between totally loving the critters that come into the yard, but also wanting to eat the food we are growing. Munimqehs is the Passamaquoddy word for groundhog, which I learned in the fall of 2018. In Wabanaki stories, Munimqehs is the wise grandmother who has many lessons to teach us about how to be good human beings. How desolate we would be without our animal neighbors!
We haven’t had any groundhogs in the yard for the last few summers. The last one disappeared, we believe due to the intervention of a neighbor. With a groundhog in the yard, however, it is a whole new ballgame for gardening. I immediately went out in the heat, and put together a netting contraption to try to protect our bed of kale, from which I had harvested the first leaves earlier this morning. I happened to have these metal arches and nylon netting, and fastened the netting to the ground with metal stakes. There is already a wire mesh under the raised bed, so no animals should be able to dig up from underneath. We’ll see if this deters our little friend. I might have to also go back to the pee protection scheme that I used to partial success a few years ago.
Meanwhile, today I am grateful for the excitement of a critter on the deck, a young one it seems. Let’s see what lessons she/he will have to teach us. We have lots of clover that we’re happy to put on her table. Let’s see if we can be good neighbors.
Yesterday, I finished planting my hugelkultur bed! I learned some things in the process. It is very hard to water the whole mound–the water stays on the surface and slides down the sides. So I made small indented areas along the top of the mound in which to plant seeds so they could hold water: a round bowl-like indentation for a zucchini “hill,” and a square indentation for some bush beans. I put the first zucchini “bowl” near one end, so that the plant could drape over the edge. I alternated zucchini, then beans, then zucchini, then beans. I found some brown packing paper to use to help block weeds between the plantings, and put some straw in my seed areas for mulch. I used little twigs and stones to hold down the paper.
I planted three kale seedlings in the next area, then a “bowl” for cucumber seeds at the other end. I really could only plant in the very top across the mound, because nothing else was stable enough to water and keep the soil. I did tuck a couple of borage seeds lower into the side, in case they might grow there, since they are good companion plants for all of these. I tried to pick spots that had some support, and under where the beans would be. But it is very hard to water the sides without the soil sliding down. I imagine that if someone made a hugelkultur mound in the autumn, it might settle enough over the winter to be more usable on all of its surface area. But that idea of planting up both sides didn’t really seem feasible to me, though it was part of what appealed to me in the first place. Right now, planting the squash and cukes which like to spread out with a lot of vines seems the best idea.
Meanwhile, I planted other kale seedlings tucked into spots around the peach and cherry trees circles in the orchard, along with some lettuce and carrots. I love the polyculture feel of the food forest. I now have a total of 13 kale plants thanks to friends Mihku and Sylvia. I think of them as my tried and true veggie for the year–easy to grow, pick and eat, and freeze for the winter. So far, they have grown really well in our food forest.
Meanwhile, we also have sea kale, a lovely perennial kale that we have already been harvesting in early spring, along with our chives and oregano and thyme. The asparagus has been disappointedly spindly this spring so far. I had been hoping I might get a bunch to eat since this is its third year, but I only had a few spears worthy of snacking on. I guess they need more compost to keep them well fed. However, I am excited about these new zucchini, bush bean and cucumber plantings. Wish me luck!
Sea Kale–a bit more pungent than annual kale, so I often mix the two for my own taste–plus sea kale also has little “broccoli” florets that can be eaten as well. This picture is from May 11th. It is best when very new, so we are almost already at the end of its season.
Continuing to build a hugelkultur garden bed, yesterday, we added some brush to the top and sides of the mound, over the cut grass layer. Margy pounded some branches into the ground on the side as stakes for further stabilization.
Next, today, I covered it all with dried leaves, one full wheelbarrow plus a big garbage bag full, saved from last fall.
Finally, I added about 3 wheelbarrow loads of yard waste compost, and watered all of it. But this stage of adding compost is going to need many more loads before it is finished. I should be adding several more inches of compost. The mound is about 15 feet long, and will be 4 1/2 feet wide when complete. I had one of those moments when I thought, “Why did I make it so big?” I think this stage is going to take a while.
Meanwhile, I was pondering the fact that I often feel anxious when I am trying new things in the garden. I was realizing that my parents and grandparents were urban or suburban people. My dad wanted to get back to the land, and was a cowboy for a while, but mostly he worked as a draftsman for the auto industry. His parents tried to homestead in Wyoming, but that fell through and they came back to Detroit. My mom’s parents came from Linz, Austria and Quebec near Ottawa, Ontario, and lived most of their lives in Detroit. She had flower gardens while I was growing up. So I didn’t learn how to grow food from my family. It has only been as an adult that I’ve tried to learn about food gardens, off and on as circumstances allowed it.
The more I learn, the more aware I am of how much I don’t know. Each plant is like a stranger to me, then perhaps an acquaintance, and I hope in a while it might be a friend. It is hard to believe that we could be relatives to each other. (Well, except for kale–kale already feels like a relative, since I have grown it for a long time.) But I try to remember to embrace this beginner’s mind, to be present and attuned to the process. It is good to be outside, to feel the spring, to forget for a while the grief and fear that this pandemic is unleashing.
I just have to say it once more: kale is amazing! I picked this kale yesterday morning, leaves frozen on the stalk, snow on the ground. I had already picked most of the kale–just leaving a few tiny leaves that didn’t seem big enough for anything. But they must have grown a little in the meager sunlight and freezing snowy weather we’ve been having the last two weeks of November. I don’t know how they do it, but that is why they are so amazing. The plant just isn’t willing to succumb to the freeze/thaw weather that has killed off most of the other plants. So when I was walking through the winter orchard, I found several small frozen leaves, broke them off, and cooked them up for breakfast–they taste great!
So right after my last post, I went outside, and cut about 40 big leaves off my kale plants–always from the lower part of the stems. In between making and eating breakfast and washing dishes, I washed the leaves in groups of ten (by variety), and chopped them up, then washed them again in a salad spinner, which they filled up.
After doing the first batch, which used a lot of water, I figured out that I should save the wash water and bring it out to the garden, where I put it on the kale plants! Then I spinned the kale pieces to dry them, and sautéed them in our big cast iron pan. I had to start with about half of the batch, then add the second half after the first had cooked down a bit. I had green curly kale, red or purple curly kale and a double batch of lacinato kale. After sautéing, I cooled them in a bowl in the refrigerator before putting in bags. On the recommendation of other online gardeners, I used a straw to pull out all the air in the bags.
I still have plenty outside on the plants, but now I have these in the freezer. Ten leaves only filled half a bag, at about 1/2 an inch thick. That would be about three or four servings in our house, so this is a total of 12-16 servings. This winter, I will see how they taste.
The kale has gone crazy this year! I eat some every day, and we’ve given a lot away, but it is still up to my waist in abundance. Not to mention the basil plants, also a few feet tall. Harvesting has always felt like the most challenging part of gardening–how to keep up with everything the earth is producing. I see posts of friends who are canning and drying and freezing–that is all still something I need to learn more about. I search online for instructions, so information is not the main issue–just the time and energy to keep up with it and carry it out.
Most of our garden this year isn’t even to that stage yet–the fruit trees and bushes are still babies, the asparagus is in its first year. And perennial herbs will keep coming back each year, whether I harvest them now or not. In fact, I’ve got thyme drying in the basement, and will probably do some oregano after that is done. I finally dug up the garlic that I had planted as companions to the fruit trees to help keep away pests. But I especially feel a responsibility to the annuals like kale and basil. This is it for them. And they are shining.
Last week, I experimented: I sautéed a dozen large leaves of kale, which cooked down quite a bit, and then I froze it–it only filled a small part of a plastic freezer bag. I should be doing that with whole bunches of it, but it takes time to wash and cut and sauté and cool and bag. We’ve been eating basil this week–especially yummy with an heirloom tomato we bought from the coop. I learned not to put it in the refrigerator, but to keep cut stems in a vase with water.
For now, I just want to say thank you to the earth for creating such abundance! Give me the strength to receive and cherish and preserve your gifts. I’d better get outside and harvest some more!