Friday, August 18, 2017

Summer Stories


Steamy, sticky, muggy and hot August is the usual weather here in Western Illinois, but this year it has been dry and moderate, mostly in the eighties with cool clear evenings.  It reminds more of September and I end up dreaming of the crispy crunch and aroma of autumn leaves.  But not so fast please. So much yet to do this summer...

The peach tree delivered a plethora of peaches - dripping-down-the-chin-juicy-sweet.  Many were scarred with Japanese beetle bites but they tasted amazing nonetheless.  I'm already trying to figure out how I can do better next year.  Our four pears trees were all struck with fire blight to some degree but not so much that I had to remove limbs.  It was our best pear year ever.  I've saved the last one for me....it lies in the fruit basket ripening.  I can hardly wait.


I harvested the garlic just in time this year.  So many years I wait too long and the tops break off and I have to go excavating the garlic field to find the treasure.  Due to the drought, the garlic is smaller this year, but the concentration of oils is superb.  I completed the harvest and set them in the garlic dryer for a couple of weeks.  Now they are ready to sell or to make into garlic powder. But of course I will save the biggest ones for seed.




Before progress on the house could be made, we had to wait until the guys from Morton Building braced the sides of the basement prior to backfilling.  The south side of the basement is a common wall with the garage and so we had to compact layer after layer of rock/clay mixture, four to six inches at a time - ten feet tall and about four feet wide.  Gary worked for days while I was preparing for Market.  But Saturday we had to finish so I gave him a helping hand.  By 9:30 at night we completed the job and actually had a pretty presentable surface prepared for the guys.  Rain was expected the next day.... it never came.


While we worked on the backfilling, the guys worked on various walls of the house.  This is the north end of the building over the walkout basement.  Believe it or not, they will attach this somehow to a giant crane and set the whole thing in place at once.

 The first wall being lifted up and set in place.


This is the view outside and through our current living room window.  The crane could be seen from a mile away.  It lifted both the north and south walls and also the giant support beams. Amazing.


 In one day the house had structure! 


The view from the walkout looks huge.  


By the end of the week the guys will have framed and placed most of the windows inside and out, and applied most of the siding on the east and west sides.  Today, they even started insulating the ceiling and placed some metal on the roof.


Framing the windows really makes them "pop out".  So pretty.

I set up a camera in the work site which takes a picture every thirty seconds and have recorded the daily progress through time lapse photography.  When they are completed I will have the days all put together into one video and we will be able to see the whole process.  It's really fun to watch. The camera did not capture the height of the building on the first day with the crane.... I had to guess how high the house would go.  Since then I've adjusted the view and doubled the picture rate which makes for a smoother video.

And on a different note, I'm truly enjoying the flower farming this year.  Zinnias, cosmos, ammi graceland, verbena, dahlias, snapdragons, gladiolus, goldenrod, foxglove, strawflowers, and asters make up the current pickings.  I had the pleasure of picking flowers for a wedding this week.  Eight huge bucket fulls.  They were beautiful. I hope their special day was filled with the wonder of color.





The days are full.  Oh-so-full.  But the scurrying of summer is slowing.  Now I wait for broccoli starts to grow, beets to fill out, and pumpkins to swell.  The mums are just starting to open.  The gourds are forming and the winter squash sweetening.


And the farm stand is finally open!


Today's Journey Joys: podcasts on long drives on Hwy 80, waves of field corn in the summer breeze, our farm home taking shape, fall produce beginning, safe journeys to far away places, adventures for father and son and fish, mom and daughter time together, hummingbirds greeting me at the flower garden, meat chickens ready to process, apples crunchy and sweet and frisky kittens playing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Pleasure in Toil


"What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil - that is God's gift to man." (Ecclesiastes 3: 9-13).




The salty perspiration flows from my brow across the tip of my nose and down around my neck.... following gravity.... the air thick with water, oppressive in heat.  Yet the weeds do not stop, the planting continues, the harvesting progressing. The life of a farmer - rain or shine, sun or sleet, rain or shine. The blueberries finally done but not before the carnage of Japanese beetles.


They attacked my blueberry bushes; sucked the sweet juices of the fruit and decimated the foliage. I stripped the bushes off the best I could - trying to harvest the last of the good fruit - and then, yes, I sprayed.  Sprayed those 1600 bushes to save them.  I then put up seven traps with garbage bags attached on the west side of the field while we had a wonderful west wind.  The spraying dislodged the buggers from the plants and the trap pheromones drew the bugs off the field. Within thirty minutes the bags were half full of creepy, crunchy, smelly beetles.  By the time the week had past I had collected over 35 gallons, yes gallons,  of those plant-devouring creatures.  There remain a few stragglers, but the field should recover.





Much to think about while weeding.  Dreaming of next year already.  Thinking of ways, of methods or techniques to make this farming easier and more efficient. Enjoying the beauty of the flowers while listening to the hum of the bees & viewing the soft floating ventures of the butterflies.




"Pete" our new black kitten and his brother "Re-Pete" have been joined by yet another black kitten "Three-Pete" to our farm.  Applesauce had four kittens this spring as well.  So our little farm home is filled with curious, playful, cuddly kittens.


Our new Market trailer!  Gary and I will build the shelves and organize it so that we can haul everything in the trailer safe from weather and travel wind - and without having to drive two cars every week.


Last week the wind came hurricane-ferocious for 15 minutes accompanied by torrential rains.  Four major branches of this elm fell - just feet from Ben's car.  Other trees around the farm also suffered damage.  Yet the promise reminder of the rainbow reminds me Who is in control.





And the basement floor and heating have been installed!  Ready for the Morton guys to start their construction.  Gary dug the trenches for the drain tiles and will backfill with gravel rock this week.  It will start to look like something really soon! 

Today's Journey Joys: Cooler temperatures, blueberries planted, garlic harvested, chickens plump, flowers blooming in vibrant colors, music while weeding, Ben recovering from wisdom teeth extractions, sweet melons and soft food, squash and pumpkins forming.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Berries, Picking & Waiting

The end of June marks the beginning of the annual race between blueberry picking, weeding, and summer planting.  The juggle of horticultural demands this year has brought me to the realization that in spite of my visions of weed-free rows, blooming flowers, heavily bearing fruit, and only happy helpful insects landing on my plants - fruit and vegetable farming is hard.  Hard, laborious-at-times, back-aching work. 

"I don't know how you do it all!" I hear from folks almost every week.  And I remind them ever so gently, that I don't do it all.  They only need look around the farm to see the challenges of clutter and chaos here and there.  But I do press on.  Keep moving. Until I can't move anymore or Ally-girl emphatically invites me to come inside and make dinner.


Two years ago, when I was recovering from the chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries for cancer, we planted about 400 more blueberry bushes.  These were different varieties from our typical three.  I ordered some Cargo, Blue Ribbon and Last Call to extend my season. (All patented varieties). Blue Ribbon is producing nicely - big beautiful sweet berries.  Can't wait until these plants mature.  I already told Bethany, my picking helper, that we will save these for us in the coming years - and let the U-pickers pick the other varieties.


This year the field was grassier than usual.  I was not able to clean the field like I prefer as this Spring we were busy building an access road to our new homestead.  While picking, twice I was stung by yellow jackets.  And once, when I was picking dreamily on a summer's morn, I almost put my hand in this bald-faced hornet nest.  Thankfully they were not concerned about me.  But I did eliminate them.


Our Indian Summer Echinacea is blooming beautifully.  A joy to behold as the blooms are prolific.  The bumbles happy.


And our new plantings of blue berries for this year has begun.  We amended the soil and made these beds a month or so back.  While the boys were away in Alaska I was able to plant about 200 of the 1000 plants purchased.  It was slow work in the heat. We are planting Draper and Bluecrop over here.  I am hopeful the water-permeable plastic mulch will help my woes in weeding.


Apple blossom snapdragons are amazing!  These seeds were an impulse buy over the winter.  I started them in March and transplanted them with the rest of the snapdragons.  They are gorgeous.


And I've tried my hand out in the baking section of life these past few weeks.  I made my first ever blueberry pie.  It was scrumptious.  Then I tried blueberry cobbler - which I found to be "ok".  And then I made these really cool blueberry muffins.  They've all been a hit.

One more week of blueberry picking and then gleaning the field for syrup berries the following week and then the blue berry season will be over for this year.  We've had many U-pickers out this year and are hopeful to invite even more the following year. Then it is the arduous task of pulling and weeding all those plants so that they can prepare for next year. Somehow fitting that task with weeding the raspberries, building trellises, harvesting tomatoes, summer squash and cucumbers, and planting beans (again).  It's been a particularly difficult year to grow - lack of rain, bugs (Japanese beetles everywhere!) and rabbits.  Those adorable looking creatures with cute little soft noses ate the top of my sweet potato vines and all my melon starts.  And they keep eating the tops of the bean plants.  So no beans yet and it's already July.

News on the farm home - we are waiting.  Waiting for plumbing rough-in, inspection, and flatwork.  The building materials are supposed to come this Saturday but the site will not be ready.  I am doubtful the concrete guys will be able to get the flatwork done this week.

Today's Journey Joys: Air conditioning in 90+ high humidity weather (sure is great to cool down after weeding all day), ice cream, voice lessons for Ally-girl, the guys being home from their father-son trip to Alaska, friends for coffee, baby kittens frolicking, bees making honey, flowers in bloom, bats flittering, owls hooting, crickets singing, warm tea, refreshing showers... all the while being grateful, being thankful, for the gracious amazing and bountiful gifts from the Giver.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dry Times, Exciting Times, Beautiful Times

The end of the month of May and most of the first two weeks of June was a period of time in which rain was absent.  Nothing.  The air was even dry.  Mornings arrived without dew, without moisture.  Yet the blueberries were growing in size and beginning to ripen. No rain, hot weather, and sunny skies make for early ripening blueberries - but small ones. My fears of a lost crop laying heavy on my nurturing farmer's heart.

Ben and his class celebrate the completion of their Senior Project presentations.  The Mighty Mississippi flowing by. Ben, Farmer's Husband Gary and I ventured to the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus for Ben's registration.  The campus is beautiful and the folks there very inviting and friendly.  Certainly helped to reduce some of my mother's anxieties....

Watering, watering watering. The ground dusty.  The heat oppressive.  Tomatoes wilting.

Midway through my hauling load after load after load of water from the pond (about 25 trips in all), the water tank broke in two.  After many faithful years of service, our auction find, was irreparable.  And although I used a little transfer pump to help me water the blueberries, the task took five days 6-8 hours each day to go through the field even once.  Enormous effort. Exhausting work.

Stacy-friend told me about a big old heavy brush fire tanker for sale from one of the county's fire departments.  It holds 250 gallons, can discharge 125 to 30 gallons per minute and comes with a electric hose rewinder!  Sweet!  We bought it.  Farmer's Husband Gary placed it on our old F150, tinkered with it a bit and said, "It runs well!".  Can't wait to try it.....ah, wait a minute. I can wait.  Hopefully our four week dry period is done.


The flowers still bloom amazingly.

And the garlic sends out its flowers faithfully.  I cut hundreds and hundreds of scapes.

A gift from Stacy-friend last year.  The cluster bellflowers are lovely!

I love blue.  Scabiosa is such an airy beautiful blue.

But more than farming continues.... the farm home is starting to take shape.  Footings poured and last Friday the foundation was poured.  Huge trucks everywhere.  It was amazing.

Now that's a pumper truck!

Our guys from Morton Building scoping out the forms and preparing to set the bolts when the concrete is poured.

I kept trying to remember during all this dry time.... "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail, and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

Today's Journey Joys: baby kittens frisky at play, gushing rain on Saturday evening - weeds easy to pull, fruit widening, black raspberries juicy, blueberries scrumptious, flowers blooming, leeks thickening, university friendly, songs from Ally-girl, conversations and encouragement from friends.

Summer Stories

Steamy, sticky, muggy and hot August is the usual weather here in Western Illinois, but this year it has been dry and moderate, mostly in...