The Backyard

The Backyard

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Feeding the Caterpillars

This beauty will eventually become the beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly.  Every year, I grow bunches of dill, fennel, carrots and parsley and they are all members of the Umbellifarae (parsley) family.  I grow them mainly to attract the tachinid flies which keeps the great tomato horn worms under control, but a bonus are these beautiful caterpillars and butterflies.  Sometimes its ok to let the caterpillars eat the plants.  In this case,  eat and enjoy!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Heat of the Summer

Central Pennsylvania is under a heat wave the past two weeks and watering the gardens has become a nightly event.   Little did I realize how much time mother nature saves me when she throws some drops our way -- at least an hour a night.  My decision to NOT train for an October bike race was a wise decision and perfectly timed.  The training was to start last week - just about the time the heat wave came and I started watering in the evenings.  We are smack dab in the middle of the summer right now and the harvesting and storing has begun.  Below is a run down of what's happening in the backyard on a routine basis right now.  The harvesting, preparing, and storing will continue until mid or the end of October.  Lots of work is ahead.
  • Onions! I'm pulling them as the tops lay over and have dried for a day or two, then setting them on a drying screen under a covered area to cure (dry some more)  for a couple weeks. As more are pulled, others that are "finished" are moved to storage in our 60 degree cellar.   I'll use the last of them for the filling for Christmas dinner.  Those with thick necks that may rot are cut up, cooked slightly, then froze.  When the dry are gone, we dig into the freezer.  A perfect year of stored onions.
  • Spinach!  I got lucky this year and all the seeds planted sprouted.  What I can't eat fresh, I'm cutting, washing, chopping, and cooking just until wilted, then freezing in 10 oz sizes.  Most recipes call for 10 oz of frozen, chopped spinach.  I'll be happy to find the spinach in the freezer sometime in January.
  • Chard! Eating fresh with eggs and also mixing in salads.  I may freeze some of this in single servings to cook with eggs this winter.
  • Tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini - they are all starting to ripen.  I made zucchini patties and have been using the other goodies in salads. 
  • Sweet Potatoes!  Yup - I already have some and I'm very, very excited to be eating them already.  I have 50 plants in the ground that will produce at least 4 or 5 potatoes per plant.  I'm gonna have a LOT of sweet potatoes to eat.
  • Red Potatoes!  Yup, they are ready too.  Not too many of those, so I'm saving for in recipes and focusing on the sweet potatoes.
  • Butternut Squash - not ready yet, but there are at least 3 dozen squash growing on the vines.  The rabbits (or ground hogs??) were munching on the newly sprouted seeds in the spring, so I planted more seeds in a separate garden and low and behold they ALL kept growing.  We're going to have a bumper crop of squash along with the sweet potatoes.  We'll be orange this winter!
  • Volunteers - I have two heirloom tomatoes that seeded themselves and came up this year.  "Grandma Cantrell's Red tomato" is ripening beautifully.  A handful of sunflowers also came up on their own.  Oh, and an heirloom muskmelon (forgot the name)  is gonna produce two or three melons. 
  • Parsley - I grow this for my dear old mom.  She dried 6 jars already.  I'll dry about two.  
  • Basil - I'll dry some of this for winter meals.
  • Fall and Winter seeds:  Planted and being watered every night.  We'll have carrots, red beets, radishes, and spinach.  The beets and radishes have already sprouted and in this heat need daily attention (water).  I'll have to watch them carefully.
Other than that, not much going on.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Can You Really "Live Off the Land?"

A 30-something, former city-boy asked my parents that question 30 years ago while he was touring their farm for the possibility of renting it. My parents -- both country folk -- snickered under their breath and said, "sure." To an individual that never experienced farming or a garden, it IS a question to be asked. But to a native country, daughter and granddaughter of generations of farming and gardening, it's not even something to think about -- it's just done. Most of us have gotten spoiled in the past 40 or 50 years. Conveniences galore: fast food, pre-packaged food, humongous servings at a restaurant, and super-sweet tasting, luscious ice-cream stands. Why would we go to all the hard work to live off the land? Why raise chickens when you can get eggs for $1.50/dozen and the whole bird for $5 bucks at your local Walmart. Well, our grandparents did it because they had no choice. Money was hard to come by, there simply wasn't plastic bags of already-frozen ready-to-eat meals and there wasn't a grocery store on every corner not to mention the choices were slim-pickens in those stores. But many people today are going back to the land or never left it like the Amish. "Homesteading" is growing in leaps and bounds while others choose to get off the grid and grow their own food for environmental reasons. My husband and I may soon join these ranks. I was planning to disband this blog due to lack of time to update, but now that the possibility is very real that I may become a full-time homesteader in 4 months, (well, my idea of homesteading focuses on the food production, not-so-much the extreme life changes like no refrigerator or using a composting toilet), I'm going to continue posting. Why might we be homesteaders? Early retirement - forced for hubby (awaiting final word coming on Thursday) - by choice for me. Stay tuned and watch for lots of posts on living off the land and early retirement.