Not so rosy results from this year’s tomatoes

Unfortunately we’re ending garden week on a low note. I was very optimistic about our tomatoes this year. We had beautiful big green tomatoes. I was just waiting for them to turn red and then I would be devouring my favourite tomato sandwiches.

Green tomatoes growing in the garden

From what I’ve heard from other gardeners in our area, tomato blight is pretty prolific this year. Many people have lost their crops.

I thought we were going to squeak through, but the blight has now hit us as well. It started with our Black Krim tomatoes–this year’s new variety. The plants died first. The stalks developed brown patches, then the leaves withered. And now the fruits themselves have started to shrivel, darken and fall off the plant–even as a few of them have tried to turn red.

Tomatoes afflicted by blight

Tomatoes afflicted by blight

I thought the blight might be limited to the Krims, but it’s now spreading to the Mountain Merit beefstakes and even our usually resilient cherry tomatoes.

Tomatoes afflicted by blight

To try and curb the blight for next year, I will be ripping out our plants and throwing them on the burn pile rather than composting as we usually do. And rotation is a must to ensure that next year’s tomatoes are away from the blight.

I did stock up for my tomato sandwiches, but I did it at the grocery store, rather than the garden. 😦

Have you had any blight issues this year? How have your tomatoes grown? What’s your favourite way to enjoy tomatoes?

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Potato harvest 2017

Garden week is continuing here on 129 acres. This post is all about the high point of the whole gardening season so far–the potato harvest.

Picking potatoes

You may recall that we decided to devote a whole quadrant of our 2,500 square foot garden to potatoes this year. We had a whole bunch of seed potatoes–all from our own pantry–and I ended up putting in about eight rows.

The results were pretty much as expected. A whoooooole lotta potatoes.

Potato harvest 2017

We grew four varieties: Kennebec, Russian Blue, Basin Gold and red. The Kennebecs are by far our favourite. They fry up nice and crisp for hashbrowns, but stay soft and potatoey inside. Their flavour is also wonderful. It’s a good thing we like them because we had so many we ended up picking them into the wheelbarrow.

A wheelbarrow full of Kennebec potatoes

The Kennebecs also grew big. One potato will make more than enough hashbrowns for breakfast for both of us. For comparison, Matt wears a size 13 boot.

Giant potato

The Russian Blues are fun purple potatoes. We got a decent crop of them. The reds are the first potatoes we ever tried growing. I think some of the plants were choked by weeds this year because the number of reds that we got this year was not great.

However, the greatest disappointment ended up being the Basin Golds. These were an experiment. When Matt is looking for giant baking potatoes to go with our steak dinners, he picks up Basin Golds.

We had a couple of potatoes that sprouted by the time spring arrived, so we stuck them in the garden. They definitely did not live up to our expectations of giant baking potatoes. First, we only got six potatoes. And second they’re small. Here are our measly six taters with their size 13 Kennebec relative.

Different size potatoes

The potatoes are all different shapes and sizes.

There was a Russian Blue that Matt enjoyed particularly. Ahem.

Mishapen potato

And the much more G-rated Mini Mouse potato.

Mini Mouse potato

We dried the potatoes for a little while on a tarp on the driveway–supervised by that omnipresent puppy–and then loaded them into sacks and put them in the cold cellar. Last year, we followed a pretty similar process, except we put them in cardboard boxes, and they lasted fairly well.

Potato harvest 2017

Hopefully we will be enjoying homegrown potatoes for many months to come. I’m expecting breakfast for dinner–complete with hashbrowns–will be on the menu one evening this week.

Do you grow your own potatoes? Do you have a favourite kind of potato? How do you like to eat potatoes? Any tips on storing potatoes? I’m really hoping that our sacks work well.

Battling Japanese beetles in the vegetable garden

Thanks everyone for the well wishes on my last post. Freelancing is an exciting venture for me, and I’m very grateful that I’m able to take this step.

This week is garden week on 129 acres. I’ve shared some of our highs and lows already. As the season is progressing, we have more news to share. Harvest is still coming on very (very) slowly.

Matt was looking for squash this weekend. We’re easily at least a month away from those, I would guess.

I did reap a bumper crop recently, but not a food I was looking for. I finally picked our Japanese beetles. Definitely won’t be eating these.

Our raspberries have been the worst victims, although the grapes have also hosted a few of these munching monsters. I’ve even found a few on my laundry after it’s been hung outside. Not impressed.

Japanese beetles on the raspberry bushes

It’s extra insulting when they’re procreating right in front of me. But the reward is killing two or three at once.

Japanese beetles on the raspberries

I had read that the most effective technique was to handpick them off the plants and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. I think a couple of years ago I was squeamish to touch these guys. Not anymore. I walked up and down the rows and didn’t hesitate to flick the beetles I saw into my bucket.

The film of soap on the water kept them in the bucket–aside from when I tripped over a rogue weed and sloshed water and beetles over the soil.

I picked for a couple of days in a row and eventually noticed a decrease in the number of beetles I found. The result was a small bucket of grossness–which I did not count.

Bucket of dead Japanese beetles

I think in future years I need to be motivated to pick these guys as soon as I spot them. It would likely decrease the chances of progressing to a full infestation.

Do you have Japanese beetles at your house? Or another pest that you’ve been battling? Any tips for dealing with beetles?

Changes

Writing at the dining room table

I’m writing this post on Tuesday afternoon, sitting at my dining room table staring out the big window at the garden and the fields beyond.

This is not where I’m usually found on Tuesday afternoons. Especially not the Tuesday after Labour Day when everyone is back to work, back to school, back to routine.

As of the beginning of September, I have a new routine. One that revolves around the farm, family and freelance writing.

I’ve taken a leave from my job and am going to see what I can make on my own. I’ve thought about doing this for awhile, and I’m excited, nervous and grateful to be able to now take this step.

I’m doing communications consulting, editing and, of course, writing. If you need any of these services, I’d love to hear from you. My business is called 129 Communications (for obvious reasons).

Lots of eggs in Illinois

The flavour of a fresh, home grown egg can’t be beat in my opinion, so an over-abundance of eggs would be welcome around here. Abundance is exactly what Sarah in Illinois has. Add a few chickens to your household, and the eggs quickly pile up. Sarah is here today sharing some of her favourite egg recipes. She’s also seeking suggestions on other ways to use up her bounty.

We still have 7 healthy chickens so that means we have 6-7 eggs to collect every day. Those eggs add up quickly. I really hate to have any waste, so after I have given eggs to our immediate family, I try to use everything that is left.

The most obvious use for eggs is breakfast. I like to scramble a few and add fresh chives and dill from my herb garden before I leave for work. On the weekends, Steve fries them or makes his favorite: omelets. His specialty is filling the omelets with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, cheese, sausage and fried potatoes.

Probably the most common way we prepare our eggs is hard boiling them to have for breakfasts or an easy to grab, high protein snack.

Blitz’s favorite breakfast? Boiled eggs mashed up with butter. No lie.

Our go-to carry-in dish is to make deviled eggs. This past weekend I made them to take to our family reunion and used a basic recipe of mixing the yolk with mayo, mustard and relish. Then I added ranch dressing to thin it out a little. This isn’t Steve’s favorite, but the kids and I like it.

However, even with all of these uses, we still have plenty of eggs left over. So I decided to search for more recipes.

Growing up mom often made a quiche. I think I am going to try this one by Paula Deen.
One dish that I have always been curious about is Eggs Benedict. I have never tried it before but I think this would be an easy recipe to try.

I keep telling myself to make a batch of these scrambled egg muffins and freeze for a quick breakfast on mornings we are running late.

One of our overachieving hens laid this double-yolker.

What would make your egg recipe list? How do you like your eggs for breakfast? What are your favorite ingredients in an omelet?

Mmmmm… eggs. I love eggs. (BTW, I love that spiral egg rack too.) I’m a poached egg person usually. I love dipping toast fingers in the yolk. We also make our own version of McMuffins some weekend mornings. Omelets, quiches and frittatas are a go-to for an easy dinner. If you’re looking for something a little fancier, a strata is a good go-to. I’ve made this one a few times and it’s good.

Labour Day labours

Happy Labour Day everyone.

Like Studio McGee said on Instagram the other day, I’m “really feeling the whole rest from your labours thing this weekend.”

Of course, we tend to mix in a bit of labour around here even when we’re having a mostly relaxing weekend–a three day weekend too. But sometimes the labour doesn’t go as planned.

Tipped tractor

Tipped tractor

Spinning tractor wheel

Towing the tractor with the car

Tractor behind the car

Note the dog, who is very unconcerned with his chances of getting smushed by either a car or a tractor or whipped by a snapping chain. I’m glad he trusts us to keep him safe, but dude could have a bit better sense of self-preservation.

Note as well the husband hiding behind the front end loader.

And a final note that this is all my fault. I hadn’t mowed the gully with the push mower as well as I usually do. There was an actual thought of, “I wonder whether Matt can get down here with Wiley.”

Turns out he can, but he can’t get out, at least not when the ground is soft and a little wet.

What are you doing this Labour Day?

Birthday wishlist

Happy September, everyone. September is my birthday month. Usually, I tend to have one thing on my birthday wishlist. In the past, Matt and our families have come together to give me my coveted Strandmon wing chair, a beautiful painting of a local landmark and our birdbath.

This year, I’m putting two things on my wishlist: a load of topsoil and a session with a stump grinder. Maybe not typical for birthday festivities, but much desired by me.

The topsoil will regrade the north and back of the house getting rid of the last of the rocks and weeds in these two areas. It would be very nice to have these two areas graded properly for water flow and have them mowable next summer.

Back of the house

The stump grinding is also about mowing. Ralph’s stump (sorry, Ralph) is my nemesis every time we cut the grass.

Now that we’ve cleared the meadow, a few more stumps have been revealed. They’re continuing to sprout suckers which block my view of the pond. And again, mowing around them is a pain. Getting rid of these stumps would be a huge part of our quest to clean up the meadow.

Stump

Really, property clean-up is like a gift that keeps on giving. Yes, there’s some work involved, but I enjoy that part. I will also enjoy my stump free meadow and weed free yard for years to come. So happy birthday to me, maybe?

What’s the oddest birthday gift you’ve ever asked for or been given? Have you ever used a stump grinder? I’m curious to see one in action.

End of summer sunrise

Late august sunrise over the fields

Our morning walks have been slowly getting darker and darker. I love summer, so I’m sad to see the days shortening. But I do enjoy seeing the sun rise over the fields rather than heading out when it’s already up. The change of season is coming.

How are you starting your days as the summer winds down? Is anyone else a bit sad that summer’s coming to an end?

Sawing through the honey-do list

Since moving to the farm, I’ve discovered a few new favourite tools. One of these is the chainsaw. However, in our house the chainsaw is Matt’s and he’s the one who wields it. Due first to Matt’s broken arm and then to a hole in the oil tank on the saw, we’ve been chainsaw-less so far this year.

Matt’s arm is healed and almost back to full strength. He and his Dad fibreglassed the oil tank back together. And over the weekend he finally fired up the saw.

Low hanging branches, small trees that sprouted up in unwanted spots, dead wood have all been trimmed. Best of all, Matt went through the meadow and down to the pond.

 

Matt cutting suckers from an old stump

My view to the pond is continuing to clear. It seems like as soon as I abandoned hope of clearing the pond shore this year, that’s when we finally started this project.

Baxter looking down through the meadow to the pond

The pond

A few hours of work netted us the biggest burn/brush pile I think we’ve ever had. A tractor-size one. We also left a bunch of brush down at the pond to burn there.

Matt on the tractor in front of our burn pile

Collecting the brush was Mr. B’s favourite part. Or the trailer ride to get the brush was.

Baxter and I having a trailer ride

How was your weekend?

Vegetable garden: Keeping it real

Today we’re keeping it real. I haven’t shared much about the vegetable garden this year. Mostly because I felt like it’s not good looking or full of food yet. But weedy, slow-growing, buggy… whatever is happening in the garden is what you’re going to see today.

Like the hose that fell off the fence that I haven’t bothered to fix yet.

Hose tangle in the vegetable garden

Honestly, I love our garden. I’m very proud of it, and I think overall it’s doing well this year.

We got a late start, so all of our produce is behind. This might have been to our advantage, though, because our spring was super rainy. By the time we put things in the soil, the rain had mostly passed, so our sprouts and seeds survived.

We’ll start in quadrant #1. This is the area where I planted our winter rye cover crop last fall. We never turned the rye in the spring because I didn’t know what I wanted to plant here. So I just mowed the rye.

We had a surprise when a whole row of Russian Blue potatoes popped up through the rye. Last year, this quadrant was home to all of our potatoes. I have no idea how we left so many potatoes in the ground last fall–and apparently in a perfect row. But we’re taking the volunteers and I’ve been carefully mowing around them.

Quadrant 1 of the vegetable garden

Quadrant #1 is also home to our zucchini. I didn’t know where to put them, so I stuck them in the middle of the rye. The plants are a little crowded and spindly as a result, but I’ve harvested two zucs and there are more to come–which will be good as my sisters and people at work have all been asking for them.

Zucchini blossom

As we rotate around the ring, we come to the blackberry and raspberry rows. I planted five new blackberry bushes in the spring, and they are all alive, which feels like a great victory.

In an attempt to combat weeds, we laid some wood chips between the blackberry and raspberry rows. They’re not working quite as well as I had hoped–weeds are the story of the garden this year.

Blackberry bushes

The red raspberries were plentiful–in fact, they completely got away from me. I couldn’t keep up with the picking, and so I let the raspberries go. We enjoyed lots of them though before I gave up. I’m looking forward to pruning the canes this fall. I think it will tidy up the row and hopefully improve the health of our plants.

The one issue is that the raspberries have fallen victim to Japanese beetles. So even if I didn’t like picking berries, I need to get back in the canes and pick beetles.

Japanese beetles on the raspberry bushes

Quadrant #2 on the other side of the centre axis of the berries hosts this year’s potato crop. A whole quarter of the garden devoted completely to potatoes. You can see the weeds at the back edge of the quadrant, but the potatoes have managed to thrive despite the invaders. And we’re actually really close to harvesting. I think the red potatoes are ready. The rest are not far behind.

Potatoes plants

At the far edge of the garden, our grape vines are climbing. After the vines were decimated by strange little worms in the spring, everyone has bounced back. The vines are tall and leafy. I did cut off any grapes that sprouted in the spring so that the plants could focus on growing big and strong. Things are looking good and my fingers are crossed that a year from now we will have fruit.

Grape vine

Spinning around into quadrant #3 we come to our late bloomers. This was the very last quadrant we planted. We have a row of decorative kale (it’s supposed to be in different colours, not for eating), my favourite yellow bush beans, my other favourite beets, some parsley and a mix of lettuce–oh, and more weeds.

Quadrant 3

Basket of lettuce

I really like the arrangement of the ring of raised beds around the outer edge of the garden. These are home to our perennials like asparagus, grapes, rhubarb, blueberries and hollyhocks. They also have all of our herbs. My favourite is rosemary. I’ve laid a few springs down, trying to encourage new bushes to root.

Rosemary

Opposite the raspberries the other arm of the centre axis is our squash A-frame. Half is butternut (my favourite) and half is acorn (Matt’s favourite). Because we planted so late, they haven’t climbed very high, but they’re working on it. I love how the A-frame helps to keep the squash contained. Otherwise, they would absolutely take over the whole garden.

Squash growing up an A frame trellis

Our final quadrant, #4, is probably my favourite. Remember back when I said I wanted to try a straw mulch to deal with weeds? I have decent layer on straw on this quarter, and it’s been very helpful at suppressing weeds. This quadrant is growing onions, red and jalapeno peppers and three rows of tomatoes–one more than last year.

Our cherry tomatoes–which are all volunteers–are the first to ripen. None of them have made it into the house yet. I love having a pre-dinner snack right in the garden.

Onions, peppers and tomatoes in the garden

Green tomatoes growing in the garden

So that’s the garden so far this year. Not the prettiest and not the most productive–at least not yet–but ours, and I’m satisfied with where we’re at.

How is your garden growing? What are your tips for dealing with weeds? Do you have any favourites that you’ve planted this year?