Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Tale of Mrs. Hansen's Farm Garden...

Every year I say I am going to scale back, not put in so much of a garden because I'm so darn busy. Only two years out of the last 29 have I actually not put one in. So I lie to myself a lot... 

This year's garden is the first one planted on the farm, and so far it is doing just fine. Because of the closing, weather, and a special trip to Arkansas in May (look up PULP ARK in the archives) the garden is going in late and I had to buy most of my plants. But we are going to have fresh vegetables, because all that soil was just talking to me. Once you've had a homegrown tomato, there's no turning back.

Hopefully the local wildlife will let us eat some of the fruits of our labor! 

The weather has been variable this month, hot and humid one day and cool as heck the next. Rather stormy at times too. A 30° temperature range in 24 hours is a bit much! Still, we get out there and do what we can.

Being only able to get over there a few days a week, the weeds and grass get ahead of us. The last owner is still in the area, and he came over to mow midweek, and ran the tiller through the garden for me to knock down the stuff that was popping up. He did that again before the weekend was out. The two long rows off to the left are potatoes he wintered over from last year's crop and replanted. We agreed to share the space, and the produce. Many hands make light work! And getting out to do something productive in the fresh air and sunshine is a great mood stabilizer, let alone good exercise.

These are just some of the plants waiting to go in. I bought some, and Brian and Stacey bought some at an elementary school plant sale. Even the grandson contributed plants he started by himself. I bought even more plants as the week went on, there is a nursery about 7 miles away and I am such a big sucker for plants at this time of year.

We've been coming to this place for almost 20 years to mow and take home grass clippings as mulch for my garden at my present home. The fields around the house are large, and being old pasture, the grass grows thick and tall. That very mower and vacuum cart used to belong to the owners, we purchased them just to keep them there so we didn't have to transport our own equipment right away. Grass clippings are my favorite summer mulch, they pack well when half dry like this, shading the soil and keeping moisture in it. That really keeps the weeds down too. They rot down over the winter and add to the humus content, which gradually improves the soil. This stuff is a clay loam with some sand and silt, so it can use all the help it can get. Haven't seen a worm in there yet. In this picture, I have marked off a row for tomatoes.

This is a big clump of multiflora rose, which is an invasive weed plant in CT. Originally planted as a living fence barrier, it has now spread through our state choking out native species. This one, along with some Oriental bittersweet, is gradually engulfing the office trailer. It blooms in June so it's easy to see where it is. Clumps like this are all over the property, and we have them at my present home too. Nasty stuff to work with, it's very long trailing vines filled with thorns, but beloved of birds, bees, and butterflies. That clump is going after the nesting season. I think some Eastern Cottontail bunnies are living under there too.

This is how we grow tomatoes, on 7' heavy duty fence posts. Best method I've ever used, the posts are sturdy and stay up even in windstorms, and they last for many years. The green twine is just to get a reasonably straight line, the post pounder and stepladder are what gets them in the ground. In August I will have big bushy plants with 3-4 main stems loaded with big tomatoes, and no worries about them toppling over.

I am probably the only person you will meet who will look at a cartload of grass clippings like this and swoon. To me this represents crops that will be about as carefree as you can get in a garden, and good soil in the years to come. Three cartloads like this used to fill our full sized pickup bed and then it would get hauled 13 miles home, where we'd have to unload it into big old plastic tubs with handles and haul it into the garden to mulch my plants. An all afternoon job, hot, dry, dusty and dirty work. Miserable when it is humid out, everything sticks to you. Now, we can do it at our leisure, and not so much heavy lifting! No lack of mulch on this place.

Fifteen of the 19 tomato plants I planted are in in this picture. In the background and foreground are some of my sets of stakes and string that helps me lay out halfway straight rows and squared off beds. Was just trying not to encroach on the potato rows and allow enough walkway between those tomatoes and the next planted area.

One evening severe thunderstorms blew in just as I was planting the last tomato of the 19. We scrambled to get everything put away, and drove back to this place in a downpour that made it hard to see the road, and lightning that was more than impressive. A half hour before this shot, we still had large patches of blue sky and sunlight.

A little out of sequence here, but a closer look at the density of the multiflora rose. The place is full of it. It is pretty in its own way.

This might look like the same shot as above, and it is the same angle, but like three days later. Look how much the tomatoes have grown! The rain, mulch, and a shot of liquid plant food made all the difference. I have all 19 plants in now, and my cucumber trellis is staked off in the distance, awaiting more posts and wire fencing. Going vertical with cuke  vines saves me a lot of space and seems to somewhat fool the beetles. The cukes are easier to pick too, though a few get caught in the mesh and have to be snapped in two.

A shot of the field. Several times over the end of the week we had deer step out of the brush and graze or browse before moving on. The marshy edge of the pond is obscured in the brush to the immediate right. We've had wild ducks, geese, and a great blue heron fly past us headed in toward the water. I hear there is a red tailed hawk nest up in the trees on the hill. Always something to watch for.

This was one of the smaller tomato plants I put in, only about 6" tall, crammed into a little 4-pack. It added another 6" of growth in 4 days. The variety is called 'Mortgage Lifter' because they are so big and prolific. The potatoes in the background are also doing very well.

There are cottontails all over the place on the property. This was one of two I saw playing around under the magnolia on the side lawn. He or she sat patiently as I got my camera, opened the bathroom window, and took a bunch of pictures.

When you are moving from a place where you've lived for the last 29 years there's something comforting about seeing wildlife or plants you recognize. An Eastern Phoebe sat on the side lawn for a few moments while I was snapping bunny pics, so I took its picture too. Like the barn swallows, they are friendly little birds that like to live near people and their buildings.

Goodbye bunny, don't eat the rhubarb or my garden!

Toward dusk is when the deer seem to come out. This doe stepped out of the brush across the big field from the garden and just watched me for a while. I took a lot of pictures of her. The way she has one ear cocked in the picture below, I wonder if there is a fawn nearby.

Lots of multiflora rose in that area, but she seemed to prefer tender brush tips. Can't say that I blame her there!

Sunday I finally got some summer squash plants in. I seeded some too for a backup crop when these get tired or buggy. Besides, I couldn't find pattypan squash as plants, and we like those. These are crookneck and Black Beauty zucchini, which is my favorite. Croookneck picked small before it gets a hard skin and big seeds is the best tasting summer squash for mashing, and it doesn't overproduce like the hybrid straightnecks. The dark skinned zukes have the firmest flesh and hold up longer without getting soft and spongy. Pattypan is my favorite frying, grilling, baking summer squash, and if not big and seedy, can be breaded and fried or baked like eggplant. The weird shape stuffs well too. Sunburst Scallop is yellow and my favorite pattypan for taste, but I also planted Balmoral, which is a green tinted white—mainly because I had the seeds and know people who will take them. I have certain varieties of veggies that are tried and true favorites I will plant every year.

Almost finished for the weekend here. The tomatoes are all in, eggplant, peppers and basil in the next mulched bed, the cucumber trellis up and plants at its base in the distance. Summer squash plants in too. That shepherd's crook is from my current garden at our present home and has always graced the right front corner, holding my summer birdfeeder, as it will here. Doesn't look bad for being 15 years old and having been run over by our garden tractor.

Sunday evening I had planted all I could get in. Besides the plants mentioned above, I seeded the new squash and in the next bed ahead of them, planted watermelons and cantaloupe. In the far distance will go all the butternut squash and pumpkins, and maybe a small patch of late corn. To the left of the tomatoes, next to the potatoes, a row of bush beans. And that is likely it for this year. At least everything got mulched.

And so we've come to the end of this blog entry, all about Mrs. Hansen's garden and all the cute little creatures that want to come and eat it for me. I haven't been back since Sunday evening, and HOPE everything is still there. I'll find out when I get a ride over on the daylight side I guess!

Have a good day, and a great weekend,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the farm gets more beautiful with each posting.....I can't wait to see the next posting...Marianne - EVC