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

I wish I had a little oak barrel. Or a little cherry barrel. Or some little barrel.

Why? Because I am married to the delightful, talented, and immensely generous Josh Legler, whose ancestry traces back to a family of small barrel makers. The barrels were small, not his relatives. And I want a small barrel to put new vinegar into.

Last year I started making fruit vinegars. I age them in mason jars, but I kind of wonder what wonderfully surprising things would happen if I aged them in small, wooden barrels.

This year I am attempting to make balsamic vinegar, without a small barrel. Here’s what I did:

I used my friend’s grape juice steamer, and Niagara table/juice/wine grapes. I poured the juice into a pot and reduced its volume by 50% by boiling. I poured it into jars (50% full) and waited until it fermented. Some of the jars were slow to ferment, so I jump started them with a jar that was quicker to ferment. After they started to ferment, I let them bubble for a week to 10 days. Then I gave them each a vinegar mother. They will hang out with her until she starts giving them outdated advice or criticizing their life choices.

I contacted our local winemaking supply store, and asked if they sold barrels or champagne yeast. They didn’t have either, and they were abrupt and unhelpful. My interaction with them kind of left a bad taste in my mouth that had undertones of Rogaine for Men with high notes of premium gasoline and a finishing whiff of attorney’s fees and divorce papers. La di da. I understand. But it made me think that maybe wine people need more vinegar in their lives, and less wine.

So, I’m still looking for a small barrel to age this new batch of balsamic vinegar.

Radishes were never meant to be eaten raw.

Radishes, butter, garlic, and kosher salt. You can make this recipe in 28 days (plus 4 minutes)

We bought a 20 pound box of freestone peaches for $17. I bottled 14 quarts, then dehydrated 3 trays of sliced peaches. We have about 6 left to snack on.

Tonight I’m shelling our Good Mother Stallard beans.

Goodbye, August. Hello, September!

Even thought we haven’t even hit peak tomato harvest time, I can already see the summer garden winding down. It reminds me of Charlotte telling Wilbur that she is languishing. She still has work to do, but she can feel the end is coming soon.

Of course, gardens have no end–only seasons. The cooler weather is already coming, which allows us to welcome in a whole new set of crops like lettuces, brassicas, a second flush of strawberries (I kept a 3×6 patch) and maybe a big ol’ chunky cauliflower. Cooler weather allows us to say au revoir to the summer crops, which is hard, but important. It will make that first July tomato of 2022 even sweeter.

I was gone while the big planting of carrots were germinating. We got three black carrots.
Yellow + green beans. The yellow are weak tasting. The green Blue Lake Bush 274 are great, but the Contender is flat and ugly…
Favorite dinner of all time! Whatever I picked + garlic + olive oil + kosher salt. Today it’s Juliet tomatoes, summer savory, rosemary, basil, baby eggplant, walking onions. And love.
I know the secret to growing great basil, but I’ll never tell.
A slice of Black Nebula carrot. Tastes like crunchy dirt.

When I discovered the Little House on the Prairie book series last year, I was in love. Finally! People who were as obsessed with food and the procurement and preservation of it as I was. Those pioneers know my love language.

I especially loved Farmer Boy (book #2), which is essentially a book about food through the eyes of a hungry, hardworking farm boy.

So today when I made Leather Britches (green beans, strung to dry), I felt like one of the family. Me in the kitchen with needle and upholstery thread and beans, prepping my summer harvest, imagining sumptuous winter meals.

These beans will dry naturally, then be stored. To use them, I will immerse them in water for 1+ hours, then pressure cook them with bacon, salt and pepper for 40 minutes. I’ll most likely serve with cornbread with cornmeal that we put away using dent corn that we grew.

I’ve tried so hard this year to keep our garden full. When beets come out, i have another flat ready to plant in their place. If a seed doesn’t sprout, i quickly reseed. If baby ducks nip the tops off, I replant and build a little baby duck fence around the seedlings.

But yesterday as I pulled the yellowed, leathery stalks of the asparagus beans and cucumbers, there was nothing ready to go in their place. And I felt like I was a bad, bad, unproductive gardener. Saaaaad.

I’m not an unproductive gardener, and I wish my brain wouldn’t say rude things like that. The truth is that I’ve been an incredibly productive gardener. It’s peak harvest season and there’s not time in a day to plant as well as reap and preserve. I spend a lot of time preparing and preserving the harvest so that we can enjoy it throughout the year, but no time right now to also tend broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, and cabbage.

If a section of our garden goes quiet for a season, that’s probably a good sign that I don’t have the bandwidth to manage another plant. Maybe the best thing I can do is heap a pile of rabbit manure on top and wait until spring. And cut myself some slack.

I’d like to thank Mother Nature for reseeding our Mizuna plant without any help from me. I was going to save seeds, but a hungry animal got to them before I could. One seed decided to strike out on its own and make its fortune next to where its mother plant grew up. Thank you Mother Nature!

I canned A LOT of salsa last year, and it took up A LOT of space. Unfortunately, our home-jarred salsa supply ran out a few months ago. It was a verrry sad day.

As i was picking tomatoes this week I remembered back a few years ago when I went to the Outdoor Retailer show, and they were sampling backpacker’s salsa. It was dehydrated salsa, and could easily be rehydrated on the trail. I didn’t think any more of it until yesterday.

I love experimenting, so I cooked up a great tasting batch of salsa. Chopped up sweet peppers, onion, obscene amounts of garlic (because we grew garlic this year!). Then I added previously frozen/drained, pureed TOMATOES, and some salt, pepper and cumin. I cooked it for a few minutes. Then I spread it onto a nonstick dehydrating mat.

It tastes INCREDIBLE. I kept some of it in sheets and then pureed some to make a powder. It’s going to be so much better than canning salsa. It’ll take up less space, use less resources, and be super convenient to use.

This is Sorghum. I didn’t plant it, and I have no idea how it ended up in our front yard, but I’m so glad it’s there!

It’s ready to harvest when the little berries can’t be dented with your fingernail.

The Sorghum in our pasture hasn’t produced anything yet. We’re still watering that patch and hoping for a harvest. I like that the one Sorghum plant (or multiple stuck together) in the front yard never had to be watered. I’ve heard sorghum is drought tolerant, and this proves it.

This is a typical August harvest this year. A couple pounds of beans, some cucumbers (mostly bitter), a few pounds of tomatoes, and some rando pears that dropped from the tree.

This morning I canned dilly beans (along with last week’s beans) and then I dehydrated some of the Sungold and Juliet tomatoes. These two vegetables, beans and tomatoes, are my best friends in the garden. They make me so happy. I want to do a whole row of beans next year.

As soon as a few more pears ripen (I have about 10 pounds ripening in a basket) I will dehydrate those.

Today, Grant’s friend, Cole, gave us three large zucchini. It’s so hard to use large amounts of fresh zucchini. I don’t know why I didn’t think to dehydrate shredded zucchini before. It would be PERFECT for zucchini bread!! We didn’t grow any zucchini this year, because we have so many friends who grow it. If we grow it next year, I’ll preserve some by shredding and dehydrating. Brilliant.

All is well in the garden. We feel very blessed this year. Very little animal\insect damage. Large harvests. Beautiful plants. Very few failures, but enough to remind us of who the real gardener is. We’re grateful that we’ve had enough water to keep our plants alive and plenty of sunshine to help them grow.

It’s Monday, August 9th and I am just catching my breath from the flurry of July “farmer drama” (or “fahmah drama”, as we like to say). Garden harvests, fall crop plantings, food preservation, and late nights. My upper back aches by then end of every day–but it’s an ache that I live for. It means that I’ve been on my feet, lugging water, reaching in awkward positions to grab a Sungold tomato that is buried inside a jungle of tomato vines or chasing a crew of “ducks on holiday” back to the pasture. I have pushed myself this summer to be a little more pioneersy, a little less Tik-Toky. (But for reals, I learned how to drop an egg in a pan to crack it perfectly, so thank you TikTok.)

I received a very sweet, generous gift from Josh this week–and I love it so much I miiight ask for it next year, too. He took the kids on a trip and let me stay home. This is my week to garden, read, can beans, dehydrate grapes, brew vinegar, pick blackberries, catch up on going through my piles of projects, and make a massive kitchen mess without worrying about what to prepare for dinner. It’s a lovely gift and it comes at the perfect time. Yes, I do all these things (and more) while the kids are home, but usually it’s interwoven with afternoon trips to the river, a ride to a store, a meal, help with a project, clearing everyone’s stuff off the kitchen table before dinner, sitting and listening, or just watching the ducks with the kids. I am enjoying this time to be a “controlled environment” homemaker instead of a “real world” homemaker. I know this week is a luxury, and I’m loving every minute.

While I type this, I’m sitting across from a sputtering pressure canner, watching the dial gauge as if my life depends on it (’cause it kinda does–oh hello, Clostridium botulinum, we were just talking about you). I take pressure canning very seriously, and do my best to follow precautions 100%. In the 22 years that I have mommed the heck out of this family, we’ve never had any issues with food-borne illness. I like to be super safe while canning, as well as when I’m cooking meat (which we eat sparingly) or preparing any food for the family.

So, today I pressure canned beans + beets and dehydrated grapes. That doesn’t seem like much, but it also included planting a new row of beans and beets, harvesting the grapes from Merrie’s house, and preparing the harvest to be canned.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to get a load of blackberries harvested to last us until next August! My goal is to preserve 12 quarts with a few extra quarts for blackberry plum jam and blackberry vinegar.

Today is the last day of July. This means that tomorrow is…AUGUST! In the past 24 hours we’ve seen the first few Italian Plum tomatoes start to turn red. We thought it would never happen.

Life is filled with the opportunity to make decisions. And it’s not my job to judge you based on the decisions you choose to make.

Howeverrrrrr, if you move to a new home and you decide to chop down a productive fruit tree because it’s inconvenient/too much work/in the way, then you have some of the key traits of a mentally unbalanced puppy-kicker. And I suggest you revaluate your decision to remove the tree.

Fruit trees take many years to become fully productive. When mature, they produce an abundance of food–usually more than one family can eat + process alone. Trees produce oxygen, they stabilize the soil, hold moisture, and provide shade and shelter. Trees are our ticket out of global warming (if you’re into that). Fruit trees are a gift to the future from the past.

So why on God’s green earth would someone chop down a productive fruit tree?

Last night we had oven roasted vegetables for dinner. This morning I took the leftovers of those beautiful gems and cooked them with a chicken egg. It was the perfect breakfast.

In the Standard American Diet, we typically don’t include a lot of vegetables in our breakfasts. Sometimes you see a hash brown or some ketchup. Pretty sure I was the only American this morning eating roasted swedes, beans, snow peas, carrots, and garlic. To be 100% honest, I sneaked a pre-breakfast bite of a stale pastry from yesterday’s run to the Mexican bakery. Regrets, but life goes on.

Today my heart is overflowing–mostly with gratitude, but also with a little aching. I’m just feeling all the feels, and it’s a net positive. Our son just left for a two-year mission to El Salvador as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He gets to teach los gentes Salvadoreños how to find peace in this life through Jesus Christ and his atonement. What a beautiful gift!!

And while Isaac is gone, life on the farm goes on. Nixon (our boy rabbit) will miss Isaac’s daily visits. Karen (our sheep) will miss him, too. Maggie (our mommy duck) will NOT miss Isaac, because he and Grant were the ones who caught her every day and put her back in the pasture.

Regardless of the tender hearts in our family today, we’re getting things done out in the garden. That picture of the overgrown radishes is actually our rutabagas. I harvested them today, and prepped them to be roasted (along with some other garden veggies) for dinner. I fed their tops to the rabbits. Our fridge is kind of overrun right now with beet greens. (A girl can only eat so many!) I wasn’t about to add more root veg tops to the collection.

And here’s our full garden. It looks so bushy and busy. I feel great about this year’s garden, but part of me wants to start planning next year’s garden. And maybe I will! I can observe now and incorporate what I’ve learned into next year’s garden. (My recent observation: Move the squash out to the pasture or the outer edge of the garden. It’s too big for inside a garden row.)

I did a brave and maybe stupid thing today. I lopped off some tomato branches so they would “no me molestan”. I kind of did the same thing with the squash. I’m going to be more intentional about pruning the tomatoes and squash next year. And maybe widen the spacing by 12″. Tomatoes and squash are space hawgs. Or maybe I’ll move the tomatoes to the area where the basil is this year. There’s definitely room to tuck in 3 or 5 tomato plants. I did another dumb thing (maybe?). I decided not to prune off the suckers on the tomatoes back in June. Oh wait, one more dumb thing–I bought all one variety of tomato this year (plus only two cherry tomato plants). Yeah, I made some colossal gardening mistakes, but maybe the Master Gardener and Creator of the Universe will answer my prayers and give me enough tomatoes to can homemade salsa. I neeeeeed it.