Wacky summer. 3/5. Would not do this again.

We had a really slow start to summer in May+June with super cold + wet weather. Then this past week (last week of July) has been 7 days of 100.

Our rag-tag garden is producing, and I’m keeping my expectations low.

It’s July 3rd and our peas are producing like crazy. Everything else is just struggling. We’ve had a few days of strong sunshine, but many days are “Seattle gray”–meaning it’s 100 percent cloud cover in the morning, burning off to 80 percent cloud cover by 3pm.

Honestly, I don’t know if we’ll get tomatoes or beans this year. If we do, it will be a miracle–and I don’t use that word hyperbolically.

Gophers ate my garlic. A lot of it. Maybe it was one lone gopher, maybe it was an underground army of gophers. I don’t know, but I do know that I was planning on a massive garlic harvest this year, and that dream is now writhing on the ground like a half-dead burrito.

Over the past few months I have watched gophers systematically take down bulb after bulb in my precious garlic patch, taking out half of my elephant garlic, half of my hard neck garlic and half of my soft neck garlic.

Gophers are extremely hard to exterminate with a pellet gun–I’ve tried. They only pop up for a few seconds before heading back down. It’s really a game of crazy luck to be able to see a gopher and have time to open the window, load and aim before the furry garlic theif goes back down. I’ve done it once in my lifetime, and I earned the respect of everyone that my husband told the story to. “The day Heather shot a gopher from the kitchen window.” I faked modesty whenever he told the story, but I was dang proud and still am.

This morning I looked out the window and noticed two more stalks of my elephant garlic were sideways. I went out to survey the damage, when I noticed a burrito-sized animal writhing a few inches away from a freshly dug hole near the elephant garlic.

It was a partially-alive gopher–with an aching belly full of my garlic, no doubt. I poked it with the fallen green stems left over from its elephant garlic bulb feast. It continued to squirm. It was awful. I felt bad for its suffering, but still had time to deliver this powerful, embarrassingly loud speach, that hopefully struck fear and dread into the hearts of nearby sub-earth dwellers (and unfortunately, a few people walking by):

“YOU SHOULD NOT EAT MY GARLIC. THAT IS NOT A NICE THING TO DO. THIS IS MY GARLIC AND I DON’T WANT TO SHARE IT. YOU ATE SO MUCH, AND THAT IS PROBABLY WHY THIS TERRIBLE THING IS HAPPENING TO YOU. DO NOT EAT MY GARLIC.”

And so, I publicly issue this warning to all sub-earth dwellers: Let the words of my impassioned, bold speech echo in your ears, and share these words with your fellow ground dwellers, your children and your children’s friends, since you probably won’t live long enough to meet your grandchildren.

Respectfully,

The Owner of the Garlic

The months of February through June were a series of time-delayed successes.

A.k.a. “failures”

I learned, relearned, and forgot what I learned–then remembered it again.

All this is to say that today is June 7th and we have fresh sugar snap peas, new spring kale (as opposed to the old flowering kale from last year), orach, green chard, and lots of robust plants that we’ll harvest over the summer (like carrots, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, shelling beans, cucumbers, squashes, and peppers) .

This post is also to say that I will be taking up a new hobby next winter. This winter my hobby was “planting seeds too early and watching them die.” It was tedious.

I learned this winter that if you plant seeds that need to be in their pots for more than 2 weeks, you need to have a bigger pot. I used tiny cells and 90% of the seedlings died. I also learned that just because last April was hot didn’t mean that this April, or May or June (so far) will follow suit. It’s been a cold + wet spring. Even the cold weather crops languished.

Our family loves being outdoors–and we’ve hiked and backpacked together for many miles. Someone once asked me a question on one of our backpacking trips that I think can be applied to gardening:

Do you hike to camp, or camp to hike? (Not that it’s relevant here, but I’m a “hike to camp” person. I love getting hunkered, cozy and settled under a tree.)

So, when it comes to gardening + eating fresh produce, which do I love more–being in the garden or eating the food from the garden? Do I live to garden, or garden to live?

Both. The fresh produce feeds me physically and working in the garden feeds me spiritually. I love the cycle of sowing + reaping. I love the being surprised by scrappy, vigorous volunteer plants. I love watching seedlings reach toward the light while building a strong root system underground. I find physical and spiritual nourishment in both the garden and the harvest. It’s no surprise that throughout God relationship with mankind, he chooses to show his love for us in gardens. It’s a place where I feel gratitude, peace, and abundance.

If there’s no pics, it didn’t happen.

(Then why are there 12 bebe quail in my barn?)

Pics coming!!

Hatched April 15th.

Hello, snow. It’s nice to see you on the mountain today. We can’t wait to see you in December. Don’t bother coming down to our elevation today or tomorrow or Thursday. I know you’re super busy in the Portland area, so let’s just plan on celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas together this year. Ok! Bye!

Today I got stuff done.

I planted all my cilantro (15 plants??). I put a few mizuna plants on the greens row. I planted 3 packets of carrots (white, red, black). I also planted a few kales. Happy day!

This week is spring! I think the ground is ready to get things growing.

I wanted to plant spring hard white wheat this week, but the ground is water logged in the area where I want to plant it. I might wait until fall. Or I might wait a few weeks and plant once the ground drains a little.

I talked to my sibs this week, and they said they’re not planting a garden this year because of the drought where they live. Having a garden not only heals the earth, provides biomass, and sequesters carbon, but the large leaves of some garden plants can serve as a mulch and living shade, which preserves precious moisture. Many plants are water wise. When they said that none of them were planting a garden, I felt my heart rip in half. And then rip in half again. And then one more time, but not as loud as the first two times. So, eight pieces total. Of my heart. Sad.

Back to happy things. My greenhouse is working! Everything in there is growing and happy! I even have a gopher that pops up every couple days to say hello, and bask in the warmth. The gopher’s name is Sheila.

One. More. Thing. Let’s all give a big South Dakota welcome to our new drake, Franklin. Franklin is from Newberg. He was best friends with two donkeys before he joined our farm. He adores Maggie. They swim together all day. Their goal is to raise 12 ducklings this spring, then 12 more next spring. ❤️

I have a kale goal:

I want year-round kale.

That means that I have to plant kale seed indoors in the winter, so that when our over-wintered kale goes to seed (which it did last week) we can set out the new baby kale.

I did that. I planted my seed in early February, then killed it late February. I started more seeds in early March, but the plants are as teeny tiny as the lovely, lush Central American country of El Salvador.

We are eating our flowering kale like it’s broccoli, because it looks exactly like broccoli. I’ll steam it, then put a half pat of butter on it.

Because of my singular kale goal, I had to say goodbye to our last two turkeys. They were sweet, but the kale was their favorite treat. It was at beak level, and they nipped off every fresh leaf, every day this winter, leaving us NONE leafs of kale! We have a fenced back pasture, but turkeys can fly 10+feet, and no fence can hold them.

We have some fun varieties of chard and other greens that we’ll be growing along with our kale. The more greens, the better.

I’ll share one more goal. I want to eat fresh from our garden 365 days a year. I think I might make a little sign for our house that’s like “_____ Days Since Last Safety Incident” (but for Days We’ve Eaten From Our Garden) just to see if we can eat from our garden every day this year. I think we can do it.

Good news! All of the peas I planted in our garden waaay back in February are now sprouted. Hello and good morning! I will never plant peas in February again. I will always plant them in early to mid March. February is not the time to plant anything in the garden. February is a time to plan, learn, teach, prepare, and organize.

I decided to plant fava beans today, as a cover crop. I put them in the tomato row and the pepper\cucumber row. It’s my first time putting down a cover crop. I sowed “Sweet Loraine Improved” fava beans.

While I was wandering around the garden, observing and thinking, I saw happy clusters of some friends I spent a lot of time with last summer. They were orach seedlings! I loved orach last year because it was happy in the cold, happy in the heat, it was tall, generous, soft, and never bitter. It sometimes goes by the name “mountain spinach”. We bought a pack of orach seeds last year that had five different colors of orach. I think all five colors sent out their seeds, and we will be flush with orach in a few weeks!

I have a few 1020 flats of seedlings that I think are going to go to the greenhouse. Our greenhouse isn’t cooled or heated. It’s my first year with a greenhouse, and I’ve already killed off a few flats because i wasn’t sure how warm or cool the greenhouse would be. Now that it’s March, we are above freezing on most nights. I think I’ll move my cool weather crop seedlings out. I don’t know if I can move my warm weather seedlings out yet. Maybe I’ll try.

Even though I spent a lot of time putting together my garden plan and mapping out where each vegetable would be, I have to be flexible. The orach volunteers ended up on the tomato row. Maybe a couple tomato volunteers will end up on the greens row. I could dig them up and transplant them. But maybe this divine chaos is what I need in my garden and in my life–allowing beauty and life to grow wherever there is space for it.

Nope. Everyone is wrong. No one actually knows, so don’t believe anyone. Not your dentist. Not the scientists. Not your mom. Not your crazy Uncle Mike, who is wrong about 99% of the time, but happened to be right one time when it involved his 401K, a tipsy bet, and the Superbowl.

No one knows exactly when the last frost date is for your state, or your city, or your microclimate.

I’ve been basing my enthusiastic seed planting this winter off of charts that say the average last frost for my area is the beginning of April. However, the seed packets say March-May. Today I found a website that claims May 11-20 is “the magic”. And yet another site claims that 6/4 is the golden day.

Why is there a 60 day spread in the dates? (I mean, I already know the answer, but why is everyone so definitive about their date?), How can I get ahead with planting without getting too far ahead? Should I just do what the little old lady down the street does and plant in ground on June 1st, no matter what?

Back in the olden days, people had these adorable little sing-songy rules that came about because they were more in touch with nature. Rhymes like “Don’t plant a pea, until you see a bee” or “Daffodils bring radish thrills” or “Tomatoes grow where carrots hoe” or “When Arvid wears his green pants, it’s time to prune the rose plants”. Folks used to get an itchy armpit or a twinge in their knee when it was time to sow corn. We now rely on expert date charts, instead of observation and intuition. I am at a disadvantage because I have no twinge or itch to tell me when to plant. Instead, I have the opportunity this season to use my senses to observe, and to become more fluent in the language of nature.

And maybe I’ll write a few more of those wise gardening couplets based on what I learn.

I, Heather, solemnly and shamefully admit that February is a way too early for planting seeds indoors in Western Oregon. I will, from henceforth, wait until the blessed month of March–the first day, if not the 15th day–to plant my first seeds of the year. (I don’t have any witnesses, so I hope I remember this solemn vow next February.)

Y’all, it was just too stressful to keep seedlings going during February this year. I know I’m a zealous gardener and a natural-borne nurturer, but it just was too much work to try to stay one step ahead of the cleverest female of all time–Mother Nature. We had days in the mid 60s where I had to open the greenhouse and let the plants cool down. Then we had a string of nights in the 20s where even the frost-hardiest of starts were shriveled by the intense cold.

Plus, we’re up north. The sun is weak, and the plants were growing so painfully slowly.

That’s ok. I’ll start over in March, I won’t worry about being behind, and I’ll continue to love and nurture every little seedling that I grow.

So, if I’m not tending seedlings in February, then what am I supposed to do with my time? Here are three ideas:

1. Reread Jane Eyre. In the greenhouse.

2. Create a detailed, illustrated garden plan. Paint little watercolor vegetables, like cabbages, carrots and kale.

3. Plant seedlings, but don’t tell anyone that you did. It’s ok. You can read Jane Eyre to them in the greenhouse.

We have big things to look forward to in the future! Mark your calendar and set your alarm–we planted FRUIT TREES!!

Let’s give a warm welcome to the newest members of our farm:

Bartlett Pear: She’s on the east side of the farm, next to the plum tree. She enjoys light spring breezes, having her branches trimmed and watching people train for marathons. Her two best friends are heritage turkeys.

Multi-variety Apple: She’s next to the oak tree in the north pasture. She’s into natural healing, deep breathing, and she loves mountains. Her goal is to eventually provide shade for summer picnics in a few years.

Hardy Fig “Chicago”: He (and his twin brother) are on the hill next to the swale, in the pasture. Their goal is to “stay outta trouble–or at least not git caught like that dope, Lenny”. They enjoy talking trash to the ducks, starting fights, and dodging bullets. Their goal is to “live hard and die harder”.

Kiwi berries “Prolific”: These two best friends just finished a road trip together in the back of a restored 1947 flatbed with wood siderails. They love French impressionist music, the smell of fresh rain and they adore “Jane Eyre” (but not Jane Austen). Their goal is to “make friends with every living creature on the farm”. They’ve both been caught staring at the figs, but have denied it.

Welcome to Chehalem Prairie Farm! We’re glad you’re here!

Saturday, February 12th, 2022 was a rare and wonderful day. It was 64 degrees and 100% sunny. This same time last year, we were encased in an inch of ice.

So, while the sun was shining, we got stuff done:

  • Moved strawberry plants out of garden and offered them to friends.
  • Moved horehound to perennial herb garden.
  • Widened the artichoke planting area
  • Planted pepper seeds indoors
  • Worked on a long term homesteading plan with Josh

Friday was just as lovely, so I was able to prep the sunchoke bed, prep the ground cherry bed, finish the painted signs for the garden, and maybe a few other things I can’t remember.

It feels like spring. Nights are still in the 30s, but we’ve had a week of temps in the 50s and 60s F. If we have a cold snap in late February or early March, it wouldn’t be too bad, unless the trees were full of flowers and an ice storm killed them all. That would be sad.

My goal is to have fail safes and back ups on our homestead, so that if we do lose a year of production in one of our systems, we’ll have another system, a backup, or a year supply in place. I didn’t get that system set up for tomatoes last year, and we’ve had to use store bought canned tomatoes for our pizza and pasta. (Not sure if you remember, but last year the one Juliet + one Sungold were the rockstars, and the 10 Italian Plums suffered in the heat and lost all their blossoms. No pizza sauce last year. )

I have a good feeling about this year. 2022 is going to be great!

As much as I want to wax Walt Whitman, there is things I’ve did that need to be writ down. And not all fancy like.

Grant and I converted our turkey tractor into a greenhouse. We bought 6mil plastic sheeting and secured it to a frame made of cattle panels and pressure treated lumber. It’s beautiful. Today the outside temps were in the mid 60s, which meant we had to open the door and cool down the greenhouse. IN THE MIDDLE OF FEBRUARY, FOLKS!

I planted snow peas in the garden. And tomorrow I’ll probably plant the snap peas. If they perish, they perish. I am guessing that temps won’t get below freezing again in February. And that means I’m going to garden as if spring is here.

I’ve been filling up seedling trays to fill up the greenhouse. Leeks, onions, broccoli, greens, romanesco, green cauliflower…all good things. In a few weeks I’ll be able to plant those seedlings in our garden and fill up the seedling trays with the next batch of seeds. My dad ordered some craaaaazy seeds for me to try out. It’s going to be such a great year!!

I checked on our seed potatoes in the barn fridge (which died this week) and the seed potatoes look perfect. No shrively spuds. I packed them in sawdust in a paper sack. I’ll plant them next month.

I helped my friend, Annette, build a planter out of pallets. It looks dang good!! It only took us an hour!

I painted garden signs on weathered wood that was given to us by our neighbor. Now, if I give–

–hold up… Where’s the cent sign on the keyboard??? Back in my day, we had a cent sign that looked like a lowercase “c” with a vertical line through it. (Inflation, amiright?)

–now, if I give the 25 cent tour, people will know what each of the gardens are and what we’re growing in them.

Can I also just add that I’m reading The Secret Garden right now? It’s a soul-filling book. It was the perfect read after Jane Eyre. Both books have similar elements. Personal growth, strong heroines, orphaned protag, English countryside, the moors, large estates, mysterious wailing, and secrets. Both beautifully written, and both books worth rereading.

One more thing. Grant cleaned out the rabbit hutches today. Thank you, Grant.

A few days ago I was getting ready to amend the garden with some half-finished compost. I plunged my pitchfork into the soil where the potatoes had been, just to test the soul. To my surprise, I dug up a huge potato. I tried again, hoping to score another carb load. Another potato! Again and again, until I had harvested about 10 lbs of Red Pontiac potatoes.

What a win!

Games Ducks Play (Part 1)

1. Tomato, Tomato (pronounced tuh-MAY-tow, tuh-MAY-tow)

In the game Tomato, Tomato, throw a split, rotten or otherwise unsuitable-for-humans tomato 3-50 feet away from your flock of ducks. The game play begins when the first duck spots the tomato and grabs hold. Play continues when a second, third, or fourth duck discovers the tomato. Turkeys may also play. There are no height or weight restrictions. The game ends when players get distracted by a shallow puddle or a squash plant.

2. Shallow Puddle of Nothing

In this game, two ducks put their bills into a shallow puddle, as if eating sooo much food. The object is to see how many other ducks they can trick into joining them at the shallow puddle. Once a good number of ducks have arrived (between three and five), points are awarded. If playing in “duck mode” the two ducks who began the game receive one point each for every duck they lured into coming to the shallow puddle of nothing. If playing in “flock mode” all ducks win if they can create enough drama to lure a human to the shallow puddle.

3. Sleeping Ducky

In this delightful game, ducks spread out on the front lawn, 10-20 feet apart from each other. One duck walks around acting as the “leader duck”, while the others pretend to be asleep. One by one the ducks “wake up” and follow the duck who was walking around. Last duck to follow the leader must run as fast as they can to catch up to the flock. They will never be the “leader duck”.

Yesterday I checked the weather forecast and saw that this week would have a low of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

And then I felt saaaaaaaad.

I know I can extend the growing season by covering my tomatoes and basil with a row cover, but that’s just prolonging the inevitable. My basil is still producing lush, pungent leaves (and also going to seed), but my tomatoes have slowed to one ripe Italian Plum every three days–and the blue jays get to it before I do. There are just a bunch of green tomatoes on the vine, which I’ll probably turn into green tomato salsa this week.

It’s not just the thought of losing radiant red tomatoes and fresh basil that is making me weepy. I feel God’s love through his creations, and this garden has been full of his love! When I spend time in the garden to observe, work, or harvest, my heart is reawakened with gratitude and love for my Creator. I’ve grown closer to him each day as I witness in real time the miracles of life, growth, sequence, and divine order. Maybe part of me feels like this precious time with him is coming to an end. But a relationship with God never comes to an end–we just change where we both meet up. I can find God in so many other places–in the scriptures, in his holy house, and in prayer.

It’s so hard to say goodbye to plants that I raised from seed, protected from slugs/ducks/crazy heat dome, and watched fulfill the measure of their creation–producing things like baby eggplant, bicolor corn, delicata squash, fennel, red potatoes, and white beets. I probably–nope, definitely!–spent more time with plants than I did with people this summer (unless you count my family). There were so many times Josh walked by the garden while I was crouched down weeding or harvesting and I heard “Oh, there you are!” My fingernails swung the pendulum of being intolerably dirty to being almost clean. No nail brush, however stiff and British, is a match for Mother Nature.

This is as clean as they get–even after a good scrubbing.

The days are much, much shorter now. We all feel that cozy, nostalgic, fall feeling. Last night for dinner our family had soup, fresh baked bread, cheese and fresh-pressed apple cider (from 100 lbs of apples the family picked yesterday–and pressed using the press Grant and I built this summer for such a time as this!). The whole meal just felt like a warm blanket and a long hug.

The apple cider press

I’m going to give myself a season for my heart to be tender. And then I’ll need to find joy in fall and winter. Every season is about growth–and these darker, shorter days mean the growth will happen somewhere else. Somewhere hidden. In the earth.

This is soil building season.

Ok…Josh kinda sold me on leeks. They’re a low drama vegetable that are beautiful, are less pungent than onions and garlic, and they take up very little space.

We’ll grow them again.

The summer gardening has slowed significantly.

I harvested all our pumpkins (the ones whose leaves were eaten by our wandering ducks.) Honestly, ducks are loud, messy and they eat the weirdest plants–but their cuteness wins every time. They stripped my front yard Sungold tomato plant of its last tomato harvest, but I couldn’t be mad. Watching them eat it was like a kindred spirit connection. They eat Sungold tomatoes like I eat them–the same way a sugar-crazed toddler eats the newly discovered stash of Halloween candy. As. Fast. As. Possible.

I also harvested a handful of leeks today. TBH, I don’t get leeks. They’re oniony and garlicky, but they’re not that special. Whatever. I made potato leek soup for tonight’s dinner, using our Red Pontiac potatoes. I think we ended up getting about 30-40 lbs from a little 3×10 area of potatoes. The plants on the verrrrry end were not productive, but the ones closer to the original garden site went gangbusters.

“Somewhere hidden in this potato leek soup is one red chili pepper…” This has been the running joke for every meal for the past couple weeks. Every meal has contained one chili pepper but no one knows where it is. Fun new tradition.

I’m loving our pepper plants. Thai chilis are gorgeous. Habaneros are a classic. Poblanos are a winner. I’ll get more in the ground next year so I can have some red Ancho peppers. The Jimmy Nardello peppers honestly disappointed. Overhyped. Next year will be the year of the pepper. I want sweet and hot peppers in abundance–in the same way the we had basil this year. Finally enough!! I’m thinking 30-40-50 plants so that we can use fresh, dehydrate, ferment, and can. Chilis/peppers are garden GOLD. I made my own roasted poblano hot sauce yesterday, y’all.

We’re also harvesting about 2 tomatoes a day. Those Italian Plum tomatoes took all summer to ripen, and then slowed down like crazy once temps dropped to mid-70s. Nighttime temps are upper 40s, but the Italian Plum tomatoes are like “nope.” The Juliet tomatoes are still going crazy, so are the Sungold. Just a wee bit slower. The plants are very healthy looking.

Beans were done weeks ago. Beets are huge. I just harvested rutabagas today. Carrots happened. Herbs are still going strong. Raspberries put on another flush of berries, which will be ready in a couple weeks.

All in all, great summer. I got lots preserved, and learned a TON. I haven’t planted much for fall, but if I do it’ll probably be kale, Asian greens, and an indoor basil plant.

We’re ready for fall!

Our potato leek soup (with dill, thyme, and sage), loved by all! See if you can find the hidden roasted Thai chili pepper.
Our Old Mother Stallard beans are drying. We got about 2 pounds from 1 seed packet. That’s enough for 2-4 meals for our family.
So so pritty!! Lurve!
A jar of sprouting basil plus a kajari melon for attention.
Scrambled eggs + hummus + blistered Sungold tomatoes