Summer’s end

The cherry tomatoes, undeterred equally by months of drought and by the torrential rains that followed, still bear more fruit than we can eat. Planted two to a pot and having long since outgrown their stakes, they intertwine with their neighbors for mutual support and have strength to spare for the morning glories, whose blue and purple flowers now swarm the fence, clashing riotously with the orange tomatoes.

But even these prodigious plants now weaken as the first frost approaches: we found three tomato hornworms this week devouring the green leaves. One was healthy, plump, nearly the size of my index finger; we pinched off its chosen stem and sent it to face our avian death squad. Saffy, the adventuresome eater, tasted it first but dropped it when bossy Eddy arrived. Through a fascinating combination of slurping, tossing her beak, and dabbling in the pool, she was able to choke down two-thirds of this huge worm. The last third, snipped off in her bill, fell to the ground, where Francie quickly plucked it up and swallowed it. Continue reading “Summer’s end”

Preserving the harvest

With the exception of a few tomatoes and some basil, we have given up on the garden this year. The drought is simply too severe, and the raised beds were taking more water than they are worth.

But professional farmers with drip irrigation systems are surviving, if not thriving, and we have been eating well from the farmers market. I have spent most of my Saturday mornings lately canning. This summer we have put up strawberry and blackberry jam, yellow tomato marmalade, cherries and blueberries for pie, three kinds of pickles, chowchow, pickled beets, and I can’t remember what else.

Most recently I put up sixteen half-pint jars of hot pepper jelly, my own private recipe, which I believe I have finally perfected. A whole habañero in every jar, that’s the secret! Continue reading “Preserving the harvest”

Prayers for rain

On a trip to Pennsylvania in late June I bought the finishing touch for our duck pen: a hex sign. It bears an eight-point star and rosette, for fertility, surrounded by raindrops. The fertility wishes, needless to say, are for the ducks. The rain is for all of us, and dear lord do we need it.

Almost as I crossed the state line into North Carolina with my new totem, a light drizzle began to fall. Bythe time I reached home it was raining, the first real rain in more than a month. Rain fell on six of the next seven days.

Coincidence? Well, yes, probably. But I have taken no less delight in trumpeting my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and the value of a few good superstitions. Continue reading “Prayers for rain”

In full bloom

It has not rained for four full weeks. We are barely able to keep enough water on the garden, but the big raised bed is going strong. The cabbage and broccoil have yielded several meals, and we have pulled out the spent pea plants and planted cucumbers at the base of their trellis. (Well, "trellis" is an overstatement: it is a piece of old wire fencing. The peas didn’t seem to mind.) We have eaten the first tomatoes; the potatoes are nearly ready for harvest; and the herbs, which can take a little dry weather, are growing well.

Meanwhile, the ducks are growing fast. They have moved outside now, and they look and sound more like adult ducks: they have all their first feathers, and they are quacking more than peeping. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… Continue reading “In full bloom”

Ducks!

This month we took the big leap into livestock with six Khaki Campbell ducks. (Well—seven Khaki Campbell ducks. We got a bonus duckling from the hatchery. We ordered six females, and I’m sure we have six females, but even if we assume the seventh to be male—which he probably is, because males of laying breeds are not of much value to hatcheries—we have no idea which one he is. So we’ll hold off on naming them until the mystery duck makes himself or herself known.)

The ducks arrived at most two days old; I’ve posted a few early photos below. I am building a section of this site for information about ducks, so look there for more photos when it’s up. By Thanksgiving they will be laying eggs—up to 3 dozen a week among them, so we read, but we’ll see. We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile the garden is doing as well as we could hope given the lack of rain. The soaker hoses have gotten a lot of use, but we can’t keep the cabbage and broccoli entirely happy. On the other hand, we’ve gotten more sugar snap peas and turnip greens than ever before—we have figured out how to grow those, at least, and they seem to be happy with the unusually warm spring. Continue reading “Ducks!”

Warming up

We planted the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers last weekend. The raised beds don’t get enough sun to make tomatoes really happy, so we moved them last year to pots along the fence at the bottom of our driveway. That worked just fine so long as we remembered to water them, but the raised beds need regular water anyway. This year we have Early Girls, cherry tomatoes, and some heirloom varieties, and we planted marigolds among the tomato pots to purty things up a bit.

Meanwhile it has been very warm and everything is growing like mad, as you can see below. We still have not had much rain, so the soaker hoses are getting regular use. I’ve included photos of the big and medium raised beds separately. Continue reading “Warming up”

Smells like mud

By the middle of March around here it is already spring. At the equinox the daffodils are waning and the hyacinths are in full bloom. The spring crops are coming on strong; we have already had a salad or two. The dogs, oblivious to the flowers and to any vegetables they can’t reach to nibble on, are taking advantage of the warmer days to sleep in the sun.

I was going to subtitle this page "waiting for rain," but then it rained all week. Nothing says spring like a noseful of good clean mud. Continue reading “Smells like mud”

First planting

In the Chinese Calendar, the New Year, which arrives four to eight weeks after the winter solstice, marks the beginning of spring. (That’s late January to mid Feburary for you Westerners.) That makes sense to us, because in North Carolina, it’s time to plant potatoes, lettuce, greens, onions, peas, and cabbages and their kin. We planted lettuce, turnip greens, red and white onions, sugar snaps, broccoil, cabbage, radishes, and carrots in raised beds. The potatoes go in "bins," chickenwire cages lined with newspaper and filled with topsoil and compost. As the plants grow taller they can be covered with more dirt. Continue reading “First planting”