Friday, June 28

Blue Birds, Artillery and the Fuse With Which to Fire

Local blue bird perches on local cannon.

My Grandmother has cannon.

She made it out of an old tractor axle and a piece of heavy pipe, and then painted the whole thing black.

So really it is just an old axle with a pipe painted black.

But for all intents and purposes, it looks like a big black civil war cannon. People coming up the dirt road from the south have a view of artillery poised and waiting to take out their vehicle. It's a yard decoration and it has been there for years. She even 'shot' a chipmunk out of it once. The chipmunk, nibbling away at a stolen bird feeder sunflower seed, happened to be sitting at the base of the pipe when Grandma came outside for one thing or another. The chipmunk, being startled and having nowhere else to go, took off up the pipe and launched himself out the top, landing a few feet away in the grass. He was fine and ran for cover.

When I think about it, Grandma's farm (now my brother’s farm) is the perfect defensive position. High on a hill with great views in three directions and a cover of heavy forest to the fourth. At one time well stocked with the essentials, probably even some gun powder and fuse sufficient to launch a bowling ball out of the end instead of a chipmunk. So cannon really isn’t that much of an outlandish possession. Reminds me of one of my all-time favorite movies.

[Burt cuts off a piece of fuse for a bomb for Earl]
Earl Bassett: What kind of fuse is that?
Burt Gummer: Cannon fuse
Earl Bassett: What the hell do you use it for?
Burt Gummer: My cannon!

Thursday, June 27

Humidity and Plastered Peonies

This past month of June has been one of unpredictable and interesting weather here in Upstate NY. Hot, humid days, sudden thunderstorms, damaging winds, sunny pleasant days chill nights and cool breezes.
The veggie plants love it. The flowers hate it. I look forward to the beginning week or 2 of June since that is when the majority of my roses are in full bloom. The garden in front of the barn is a wall of solid roses. Hundreds of them - branches mixed and intertwined - with pinks, whites, reds, and shades of each from the darkest magenta to a pink so light that it is hard to tell where the pink petals start and the white ones leave off.
This year, the roses did not disappoint. And just about every other flower in the garden was doing great as well. Then we had a few days of heavy rain, local flooding and just plain miserable weather. The peonies were the first to go. With so much heavy rain the huge pink, white and magenta blooms did not stand a chance. Even with the supports I put around them to keep the blooms off the ground on sunny days, did not help. The soaked blooms drooped over the support and hung there, defeated. Others just lay flat on the ground, petals falling off in a mushy, muted pile.
Every bloom, blossom, ornamental leaf and vine were plastered with rain and looked miserable.
What the flowers lost in luster, the veggies made in vigor. They all seemed to thrive in the humidity, damp and excess water. Parts of the veggie garden were under water, mostly the paths in between the zucchini and the tomatoes. But the plants themselves were all thriving.
More on the promising (knock on wood) veggie garden soon.....

Wednesday, June 26


I feel as though the Comfrey plant is the world traveler of my property.

It seems to pop up everywhere and as I tour the yard taking pictures of my flowers and plants and chickens, I will always see the comfrey here and there. And I take a picture of it, especially if it is flowering and there are tons of bee's taking a sample. I feel like I should post the pictures with captions like "here is Comfrey in the side garden", "here is Comfrey in the compost pile", "here is Comfrey at the Eiffel Tower", "and here is Comfrey on a beach in Jamaica."

Comfrey gets around.

I put some in my garden by the barn back when I was young and naive. When I thought I could contain everything and plants would bend to my whims and desires for an orderly yet stunning garden. My grandmother gave me the plant and told me that it would spread. Well, for mortals maybe, but not with my super human gardening powers.

Turns out that I am not as wonderful as I thought I was.

And the comfrey is an above average invader of gardens, yards, roadside ditches and fields.

Since I got that plant, I have been pulling and digging and cutting and cursing.

Not that it is all bad - it is a nice plant, in a way. It grows fast, it is tall and fills in back spaces of gardens and fence lines well, it attracts bees with its nice purple flowers and, if staked up, it will stay tall and if not staked up and cut back, it will regrow quickly in the same season. (Mature comfrey plants can be harvested up to four or five times a year.)

It is now growing not only in the barn garden,  but the side garden, the field, the compost area, the wooded area on the other side of the house, and I think I saw one or two of the dark green leaves peeking up out of the pachysandra.

I am sure that it has traveled to all corners of the globe in its travels and I will be receiving postcards from Comfrey shortly. He is a feisty and adventurous plant that does what he pleases and can survive just about anything. Everest? The Alps?  The North Pole? Western New York in a humid and stagnant weather pattern?

Thursday, June 20

High Hopes for this Years Garden

I have very high hopes for the garden this year. Given that I have a fencing system to rival a medieval fortress and two new raised beds, I am feeling pretty good about my future harvest.

The fence (garden fortification system)-  27 rough cut larch posts standing at 4' and buried 2' and 4' of galvanized fencing enclosing the 30' x 40' garden area. I have experimented with different types of fencing since we moved here, starting with no fencing at all to just enclosing the actual plants in their own personal plastic fence, to a 3' metal enclosure with wooden stakes, to a 4' galvanized enclosure with metal stakes, and finally, this year, the fortification system.

I may yet dig a moat.

The two previous raised beds hold strawberries, which we are harvesting now, and the other holds an assortment of radishes, carrots, spinach and marigolds. This is the first year I have mixed marigolds in with the vegetable plants after some research on natural pest repellent. Apparently, marigolds are almost pest free, and their 'pest-repelling' qualities help keep the bugs off my broccoli. They are also supposed to deter deer and the Mexican bean beetle. I hope they also have an effect on woodchucks and bunnies.

The two new raised beds, also made from rough cut larch boards, are providing nice rows of onions, peppers, more radishes, more marigolds, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers and three types of lettuce. I have covered all of the raised beds with poultry netting to deter birds from snacking on the strawberries and the woodchuck from snacking on everything else. Given that I already have the fence to rival all fencing, I should not worry about such things. However, I am a worrier and if I have a fence inside of a fence, it gives me a little more peace of mind.

I love rows. Nice, neat orderly rows.....

The two rows of tomatoes are all doing well after being transplanted. My goal with them now is to take care of any tomato "suckers," which grow in the "V" space between the main stem and the branches. This year I want to guard against unruly plants that take over the rows and provide endless hours of frustration and overuse of cages and stakes. My love/hate relationship with the tomato has been well documented here on the blog: I Hate the Tomato and every year I try to make a better cage, a better system, better row spacing, better thinning. And every year, I end up defeated, swearing and watching overladen tomato branches bend and snap. Can this year be different?

The beans and the peas are both doing very well and I planted extra peas this year with more seeds bought this spring to allow for many succession plantings.

All my rows are east to west running this year. I wanted to cut down on the wind damage to some of my taller plants and given the shape of the tilled section, this allows for shorter rows to weed. Being short on time with the two kids and other obligations, I am always looking for ways to reduce weeding time, or the need to weed in general. this year we are trying two different methods to keep the weeds down between the rows and around the plants. For the tomatoes we are trying general wood mulch, about 5 inches thick. So far, it is doing a fantastic job of keeping all but the very few most stubborn weeds down. The only thing I worry about with this method is the decomposition of the mulch into the soil. I want to be able to let the chickens into the garden at the end of the year to dig around and I also want to till. My concern is this: will the wood mulch decompose enough over the winter to make the soil not chip-filled next spring?

The other mulching option we are using is plain old straw and dried grass clippings. This is currently on the beans and peas and although we do have more break through weeds with this method, it is still negligible compared to no mulch at all. I like it because it is a bit more loose and I think it will compost into the soil better over the winter.

We will keep monitoring and decide which to use next year, or if we want to try something entirely different.

Wednesday, June 19

Tree Stump Planters

May 29th

The tree stump planting project has turned out great and I am very pleased with the results and overall look of the planters. It remains to be seen how the plants actually grow in them but I was accept some trial and error given that the stumps were free and I just really like them.

I filled the bottom 2/3rd's with mulch and some small rocks to allow for some drainage and the top 1/3rd I filled with a mix of good soil and organic fertilizer. I watered them all thoroughly and let them sit overnight to give the soil a chance to settle and to let me see where there might be any leaks.

June 9th
 I chose Basil, German Chamomile and two types of Calendula for the one section of 4 planters. Right away I could tell that the chamomile was not going to make it. I have since re-seeded and I am hopeful since it should be drought tolerant once it is established, and I wanted to add it to my herbal medicine experiment list. Its attractive properties of relieving upset stomachs and irritable bowel syndrome, and also potential uses as a sleep aid and its anti-inflammatory properties are promising. I will try re-seeding again in the fall and see if I get any germination next spring.

The basil is doing ok - I find that I have to water it daily - sometimes twice a day in hot weather. I may decide to plant it elsewhere next year and pick another herb that better tolerates the full sun here.

June 19th

I had originally thought of putting rosemary in one of the planters but I did not want to have to dig up the plant to move it indoors for the winter. So I grew it in a nice pot which is now sitting in the garden but can be brought into the kitchen this fall without any digging.

The calendula are the ones that I am really looking forward to working with. My goal here is to make a cream or ointment to use for skin irritations and acne, and for a general body lotion that will include an anti-inflammatory bonus.