Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith "A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!" - From "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning

Monday, June 22, 2009

Saturday In the Park

Well, as important as the garden is, life doesn't revolve around it! There are other little things that we need to watch grow besides veggies, so John3 and I took Saturday off and spent it with the family (John4, Deborah, and the children) at Stone Mountain. The children are growing fast, and we cherish every visit we have with them. So it was wonderful to spend the day with them all, listening to the children chatter on about this and that, watching them run and play, and hearing their little voices calling after us to come with them to see this or do that.

John4 managed to find a wonderful, shady spot near an old mill and water- wheel on Stone Mountain Lake; but I focused the camera on the children most of the time, and completely missed getting photos of the water wheel.

Although it was shady, the tem- perature was in the upper 90s on Saturday, and near the water it was humid and muggy.

The mosquitos were swarming, and seemed completely immune to the bug spray I kept applying liberally.

The event was a reunion of the Junior ROTC which John4 had been a part of. Most of them grew up calling John3 Alderdad, and he was thrilled to these boys again, now grown, with young families of their own. I enjoyed meeting many of these folks, but for me, the greater joy was having a chance to be around John and Deborah, and the children.

John and Deborah are remark- able people! I'm so proud to know them, and call them family. John is a dedicated husband and father, and Deborah is one of the finest women and mothers I've ever known. These two incredible people are raising four brilliant, beautiful children; and to the delight of John3 and myself, another child is on the way!





Friday, June 19, 2009

Perfection Is Overstated

Right: The watermelon, are climbing up, over, and through the garden fence, reaching across the path toward the outer chain link fence. Lord knows where they will run to if they get through the chain link with a whole field out in front of them!

The watermelon are also getting chummy with the yellow squash.

The beautiful, leafy tendrils of the melon plants have been slithering quietly through the squash and are now reaching for the eggplant and okra!

Below: Beautiful little watermelons are starting to show among the leaves. With 9 watermelon plants, I anticipate at least a dozen melons to share with family during this hot Georgia summer.

More than that would be an added blessing that I can share with others as well.

The tomatoes have been allowed to grow uncaged and unchecked only because of time and weather. Too many appointments away from home, and climbing temperatures prevented us from getting cages up early when we should have.
Once the weather turned hot and the temperatures climbed into the 90s, I refused to
work outside during the day. Even in the evening the heat is still oppressive. So I rise just before dawn every day and put in two hours outside, feeding the chickens and watering the gardens before the sun comes full up and the temperature rises above 75.

Above: The sprawling tomato plants have completely overwhelmed a whole row of peppers.

Below: This morning, John joined me in the garden to work on getting the tomatoes up off the ground. They had been doing okay, but a strong wind came through the other night and blew them all to the ground, even those that were caged. The tomatoes aren't really coming in yet. Just one here and there. I anticipate a huge harvest all at once at some point.

Below: The eggplant and okra are growing nicely. We've harvested only two eggplant so far, but there are many small fruit developing. No okra yet either, but we hope for a lot. This is our third attempt at growing okra, and I hope there will be enough to harvest and freeze for winter soups.

Below: Baby Ichiban eggplant. John loves growing eggplant, but I've yet to find a recipe for this vegetable that we both can enjoy.

Below: I've never grown pumpkin before, so it is delightful to see beautiful young Buttercup pumpkins establishing themselves beneath the gorgeous giant leaves. Since John and I are diabetics, I try to avoid sweets. So I'm looking for savory recipes for the pumpkin and the other vining squash I'm growing.

Shortly after we married five years ago, John's health, which was already challenged, began getting worse. His declining health interfered significantly with his ability to earn a living, and our financial struggles began in earnest. We thank God that two years ago he started receiving excellent care at the VA (Veterans Administration), and his health since has improved significantly. He's picking up a little work here and there now, but spends much of his time trying to catch up on the things that have been put off around the farm.

Growing a garden has been very important to us financially. In years past, it has often been difficult for us to afford the plants to work with, and production in previous years was never what it should have been. This year we took a deep breath and "created" a little more financial flexibility, so we could have chickens and expand our gardening efforts. I'm also learning to grow plants from seed,which will help cut the cost of growing significantly, and I'm already planning our fall/winter garden.

Our garden, and our gardening efforts are far from perfect with everything sprawling across the garden bed, and our health issues a significant deterrent at times; but I want to say how pleased I am to see the garden flourishing anyway this year, with the promise of a large healthy harvest. I have the hope of filling our freezer and pantry with enough to carry us through the winter so we won't have to pay outrageous prices in the grocery store or go without certain foods we love.

The American economy right now is in a precarious place, and things are still looking rocky for the near future. After this recession ends, a new era of inflation will begin. The price of goods and services will rise sharply, and our president's multi-trillion dollar spending plan for "fixes" is going see all of us paying more taxes (income, sales, and embedded). It may all become more than John and I can afford on our limited income if he doesn't get more work.

We're doing all that we can to stay ahead of our circumstances, but it isn't easy. Everything is on the line for us, and it gets to us sometimes. We argue under the stress, and my own health has been suffering, but when we catch our breath, John and I hold on to each other and reassert our love for one another. And we pray. We lay all of this, good and bad, at the feet of God, and we put our trust in Him. He has a plan for our lives that we are doing our best to discern and follow. It doesn't have to be a perfect plan, but then, with God designing it, it is a perfect plan for us.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June Is Busting Out All Over!

When I was a child, and I listened to "old people" talk about 'how time flies', I couldn't understand what they meant. For kids, time simply crawls! (Summer will never get here! Graduation seems so far away! Thirty is so old!) Now that I'm an 'old people' myself, I finally understand what those other old people meant. But I have to wonder why they didn't warn us not only that time flies, but that it flies at the speed of light!

I am always busy, but I often feel like I'm standing still as time rushes past me, especially in the garden. All last winter, when I was dreaming about the new garden, it seemed like the chance to plant was never going to arrive. Then, finally, I was putting tiny little transplants in the ground!

Suddenly, the garden is exploding! I'm picking several squash daily, and cucumbers every other day. The cucumbers are giants! Even the pickling cukes are really fat! I'm getting a handful of cherry tomatoes here and there, but most of the numerous tomatoes are still green. I'm hoping they'll come in many at once so I'll have enough to can, freeze, and dry.

I thought this 32'x22' garden would have enough room for everything I wanted to plant. Perhaps the problem wasn't as much a lack of space as it was putting too much in it! I planted 9 watermelon plants on the east side in an area about 3'x28'. They have easily filled that space and are now reaching out through the fence. There are too many escaping arms to contain. And in the other direction, the watermelon are wrapping themselves around the squash plants. I can envision little baby squatershmelons growing by the end of summer! I hope they don't go after the eggplants and peppers just past the squash!

We planted 45 tomato plants in the garden this year. I was delighted that we had enough room for this many, but unfortunately, that "time flies" thing has really caused a problem. Only a few of the plants have been caged, and that with those cheap little funnel type cages that really don't do much. We kept talking about making cages, and John installed a post on either end of the rows with cable running between to make some sort of support, but commitments and other responsibilities around the farm kept us delayed. Consequently, the tomatoes are sprawling! On the east side, they have completely overwhelmed a row of small pepper plants, and on the west side, they're mingling with the pumpkin and cantaloupe, which themselves don't have enough room. Like the squashershmelons, I could be harvesting tomaloupes and tompkins by the end of summer. Next year, I absolutely intend to put up tomato supports when the small tomato plants go in the ground!

We planted a Three Sisters in the lower garden. That's an ancient Native American practice of planting corn, beans, and a vining squash together. The idea is that all three should come to fullness at the same time, for a single harvest. Of course, watching the corn and beans sprouting sporatically, gives me the indication that a common harvest won't happen. And the squash (spaghetti, butternut, and acorn), planted separately in tiny peat pots a week after the squash and beans, have sprouted in less than a week and are progressing faster than the aforementioned. So I question the reality of a common harvest.

Back in the Kitchen Garden, it is remarkable that the pepper plants have remained so small, and yet, are producing fruit nearly as large as themselves. The bell peppers are the largest we've ever had, but I would like to see them get a bit bigger. The jalapeno, the cayenne, and the red hot cherries are also producing well, though they are not ready for harvest. We've been getting banana peppers for weeks, and enough for me to have already done two small-batch cannings. We shall enjoy them in salads, on sandwhiches, and as snacks later in the year.

This is the first time we've grown pumpkin. We planted 2 vines, and there are 4 baby pumpkins right now. Most are the size of golf balls, but one is as big as a softball already! These pumpkins are not meant to grow into giants. They are 'Buttercup' and should be just a few pounds each.

The garden is fenced and sits to the north of the dog yard. There is an area about 8'x25' that John cleared of small trees and overgrown bushes. In this area we hope to have a small patio with seating and an arbor next year. We had a lot of wild conconrd grape vines growing in this area too. They were growing out of control way up into trees and across the way into and through the forsythia bushes. I'm just not one to appreciate such chaos, and we have 100' of grape vines at the bottom of the property, so I wasn't that keen on keeping these grapes, especially since I wanted to train something up the arbor next year. I asked John to cut the grapes down, which he did, but not all. I was surprised to find that the grapes found their way to the dog run fence, and have trained themselves across it. It's beautiful, and I love it! No chaos!

It's almost time for the figs to ripen. Well, it won't be until late July or early August, but I'm already looking up my best fig recipes, including fig preserves, which, it turns out, are very easy to prepare. We have two fig orchards, so we always get quite a few. Last year, I tried giving a bunch away, but nobody knew what to do with them, and I was told the figs went bad and were dumped. !!!! At the very least, I could have fed them to our pig, Lulu, who would have loved them!

There is much more going on in the garden, and around the rest of the property at 5 Acre Farm. This is enough of an update for now. As I said earlier, time flies at light speed, and already, I'm behind on a lot of things that need to be done!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Everything's Coming Up Veggies!

Left: Left to Right; pumpkin, tomatoes, tiny pepper plants (jalapeno, green bell, banana, cayenne), eggplant, yellow squash, watermelon.

Below Right: Right to Left; watermelon, yellow squash, eggplant, pepper
s, tomatoes. Elsewhere, out of view: cantaloupe, pimientos, okra, hot cherry peppers.

We have had more rain this spring than I could keep track of. Quite wonderful for our state, plagued by a drought for about 7 years now. And quite wonderful for our garden this year, which has progressed in leaps and bounds, I believe, because of the rain. I'm grateful that the garden has had this wonderful head start on the hot summer that lies ahead. John and I have worked hard and done a lot of work, but somehow, we are reluctant to take credit for the garden's prolific growth and success this far.

And, well, it is finally getting hot! Although the mornings and evenings are still slightly cool, several days have been way too hot to work outside at midday. So we concentrate most of our efforts in the early morning and evening. We're still getting a fair share of rain, though not as often. It did rain yesterday, all day, a gentle, mostly quiet rain that soaked deeply into the soil. Today, because of cloud cover, it was much cooler, with a nice cool breeze, and comfortable enough for John and me to do some work in the garden.

Right: cucumbers starting to climb the old windmill.

The garden is really doing fabulously! The cucumber plants are getting huge, but insist on spreading out across the ground instead of growing up the old windmill, so I pulled them up and tied them with string to encourage their upward movement. There were many cuke blossoms last week, but I was delighted to find many tiny cucumbers growing among the leaves today. I was absolutely astounded when I found one cucumber, already about 4 inches long! I haven't had any success with cucumbers in summers past. That was a big disappointment, but I am feeling encouraged about cucumbers this year. I might just get a chance to can my own pickles!

Below Right: a cucumber, 4 inches long, among the leaves at the top of the picture.

When I finally counted the tomato plants a few weeks ago, I was a bit stunned to realize I had planted 45 (about 6 different varieties) in the garden. I must have been thinking of the 18-20 I used to plant each year, with only a mediocre harvest by the end of the season. Yesterday, there were about a dozen ripe Sweet 100s that I couldn't resist picking. I ate a few, gave most to John, and shared a couple with one or
two of the dogs who were bouncing around excitedly in front
of me, curious about what I had, and anxious to have a taste of their own.

Below: Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes ripening on the vine.

I think the pepper plants have been the most surprising of anything in the garden. Jalapenos, bell peppers, cayenne, and banana peppers - none of them are more than a few inches high, and each and every plant has at least one pepper on them. Several plants have up to 3 or 4 peppers, and the fruit are so large, they're dragging the ground.

Below: Two rows of small pepper plants (banana, green bell,cayenne, jalapeno) loaded down with fruit.

Last week, the yellow squash were still on the small side, but filling up with blossoms. This week, the plants are huge, and although there are still many blossoms, some of the plants are showing young fruit, already a few inches long! This year I'd like to dry some of the squash, freeze some, and perhaps, can some. I would have loved to have some zucchini as well this year, but each time I visited the garden centers, they were out of zucchini. When I finally found some, my garden was already too full to make room.

Below: Yellow Squash plants, late May. Right: baby squash, early June

Last year we planted a few watermelon, cantaloupe, and acorn squash seeds as an afterthought. We were happy to get a few small cantaloupe, a couple of tiny watermelon, and several small acorn squash that we kept and used through the winter. This year, we planted the cantaloupe more deliberately, and the plants are flourishing, full of blossoms. We also planted watermelon, which are also flourishing, though they are not flowering yet. Then there are the pumpkin. The leaves are huge, and the vines keep reaching out and grabbing the fence nearby. They too are full of blossoms. As with all the other plants in our garden, these three look promisingly fruitful.

Left: Pumpkin plants with blossoms, flourishing.

I can't say it enough. I am delighted with the progress the garden is making this year. It's a new garden plot. John's health crisis last fall delayed us working on the garden, but my dear husband pressed in after his recovery and worked very hard during the early spring to get the bed ready. Together we used heat and steam to remove the grass and weeds, guaranteeing very little would come back as weeds in the garden. We collected free mulch ourselves, hauled it home, and spread it on the bed. Likewise, we collected free horse manure, hauled it home, and spread it too on the bed. The ground was tilled each time something was added, and multiple times before planting began.

Below: Cantaloupe plants with blossoms, also flourishing.

The garden has been the primary focus of our lives for the last six months. John and I have cared for this garden as though it were a child, treating it with tenderness, love, and care, and fretting over it when weather, timing, and planting problems seemed to warrant fretting. Like a child, our garden has only been given to us for a season. We prepared the garden in the best way we could, working within the parameters of our financial budget, knowledge, tools, and available materials. We have done everything we can to insure that this garden will be the best it can be. But the outcome of this garden is up to God, for his word reminds us that it is not the one who waters or the one who plants that gives the increase, but God (I Cor: 3:7).Though Paul was speaking of us all being laborers in the field of God, bringing souls to Christ, his point was made through a farming metaphore that I can relate to.

Now if that comparison doesn't work for you, how about this one, slightly paraphrased to fit:
Raise up a garden in the way it should be, and when it has matured, it will produce a harvest worthy of all your early work.

Above: Me planting tomatoes in April.
Right: John watering those tomatoes after planting.
Below: the tomatoes at the end of May.