Friday, August 10, 2012

Be careful what you wish for...

Fresh juicy tomatoes. Intoxicating basil.  Crunchy cucumbers.  Sweet onions.  Delicious snap beans.  Beautiful bell peppers.  Spicy jalapenos.  Melt-in-your-mouth sweet corn.  Crisp carrots. 

THIS is why we garden.  You've heard it a million times, but there really is nothing quite as tasty as veggies you have grown in your own backyard.  Sweet corn goes from "Yummy" to sublime when it's picked just minutes before you eat it.  Tomatoes are irresistible, even for someone like me, who is not a huge fan of them (but I'm quickly changing my mind - heirloom varieties like "Brandywine" and "Cherokee Purple" are out of this world!).  So many tastes and flavors bursting with freshness.... it's a sensory overload.  THIS is what we dream about all winter long.  We are living the dream right now, gardening friends!

Harvesting tomatoes, with Cooper (former art students - yes, I still wear an apron all day.  Ha!).  Look how tall my tomatoes are!  Goat compost is magical stuff, I tell you.

Oh, I know.... it's not all dreamy.  There are tomato hornworms to deal with, blossom end rot, cucumber beetles, birds eating my sweet corn, the crippling drought, and all manner of annoying, icky things.  However, being the optimist that I am, I like to forget about all that stuff and just enjoy the good. 

 The garden is reaching it's apex and I've been busier that ever, scurrying and rushing to harvest and preserve the bounty.  My days consist of harvesting, canning, freezing, dehydrating, dishes, dishes and more dishes.  Food is all consuming. Since I'm new at preserving and don't have any "tried and true" recipes, hours are spent researching preserving methods/recipes.  I spend almost all of my waking hours contemplating food, between cooking all the meals for my family and preserving.  Some days, it gets old, and I wish I could just do things that normal people do, such as, oh you know, sit down (thank you Mom for the rubber chef's floor mat - it's a lifesaver!).  Go to the park and relax .  Go shopping for more things that I don't really need.  Then I remember that what I'm doing is normal - I'm growing my own food and preserving it so I can feed my family over the winter.  In a basic sense, I'm doing what people have been doing for thousands of years.  And no matter how tired or defeated I feel, it never fails to thrill me when I see those beautiful jars lined up in the basement, the freezer packed full of produce.  It's inspiring.

As the year progresses, I have a renewed appreciation for seasonality.  Summer is busy, a flurry of activity.  Winter is for relaxing, for resting and refreshing.  I'm looking forward to that period of rest right now, just as I was looking forward to the flurry of activity last winter.   The rhythms of the year are comforting... when I am bone-weary, I know that summer won't last forever.  Respite is coming.  And just when I can't take any more of winter, spring will arrive in all it's glory, so we can do it all over again.

Half of the day's garden haul

We have produce coming out our ears.  Some days, it's overwhelming.  Why did I plant so much?  What am I going to DO with all of this?  And then I remember, I asked God for this.  When we were searching for Third Day Farms, I kept praying desperately that God would provide a place for us, a place full of bounty so that we could be a blessing to others.  Be careful what you wish for!  We've got bounty all right.  Now, I'm trying to figure out how to bless others with it.  Some days, as I work in my kitchen for hours on end, I wonder how I am blessing others by holing myself up in the kitchen.  Is all this time spent focused on food what God wants me to be doing?  How can I be bringing God's kingdom to earth when I'm stuck in my kitchen all day?

And then the people stop by.  Lately, we've been averaging 1-2 visitors a day (and I LOVE it).   So THIS is how He wants me to bless others!  My visitors seldom go away empty handed.  There is always produce to send home with them, perhaps a jar of pickles, some jam, or a pint of berries.  All those hours toiling in the kitchen and garden?  They now have purpose.  That long afternoon laboring over tomato basil sauce?  Perhaps that will become a gift to someone in need or used to make a dinner for a family with a new baby.  This is my calling right now, and I'm doing my best to follow God's leading, as He teaches me the joy of giving. 

There is also the stewardship issue - I want to do my best to care for and use all the gifts that God has blessed me with.  It seems like a shame to let anything go to waste.  He gave me this bounty for a reason - now it's up to me to be a responsible steward of this great gift.  Thankfully, we have 3 pig hungry pigs and a cow in the backyard that are more  than willing to help take care of any extra produce that lays around too long.  I don't feel bad about giving it to them - they're converting that "waste" into delicious meat. 

So what exactly have I been laboring over?  Mostly tomatoes.  Remember those 45 tomato plants I planted in May?  Well, almost all of them have done exceptionally well!  We started getting a steady stream of tomatoes in early July and things have not slowed down since.  I've canned a few batches and made a batch of tomato basil sauce, but mostly I've been freezing them whole (cut out the stem and flash freeze on a cookie sheet before dumping into freezer bags) so I don't have to think about them right now.  I'll dig out those bags come winter and cook down the tomatoes for sauce or tomato soup.  We've given away about half of the tomatoes - no one seems to turn down fresh tomatoes, especially those to-die-for "Brandywines". 


We get this many tomatoes about every other day.

My pickling cucumbers went bonkers and before I knew it, there were 24 quarts and 6 pints of pickles in the basement... not counting all the jars I gave away.  We like pickles around here, but I'm not sure if we can eat that many.  Family members beware:  you may be receiving a jar of pickles for Christmas. 

Snap beans were planted a bit late this year, so we're just starting to get a harvest.  A rather disappointing harvest.  Perhaps it was the drought.  Maybe it was the spider mite infestation.  I'm not sure, but I do know that we're not getting many.  In the garden at my old house, I could fill a big colander every other day from my 1 row of beans.  Here, I'm just getting a handful of beans each day, despite the fact that I have 4 rows of beans.  I have "Blue Lake" pole beans, "Pencil Pod" yellow wax beans, and "Royal Burgundy" snap beans.  The "Blue Lake" pole beans are my favorite (did I mention I hate bending over to pick bush beans?).  My little experiment of growing pole beans on sunflowers seemed to work, but I wonder if the sunflower leaves shade the bean plants too much?  Next year, I'll experiment more. 

A variety of snap beans

The flowers I planted throughout the garden are thriving and seem to be attracting a multitude of pollinators.   When I walk in the garden, I can hear a low buzz of bees and wasps at work.  Several of them are my honey bees, but most of them are insect species I have never seen before.  It's fun to watch!  The sunflowers are especially beautiful and cheer up the whole house when we make cut flower arrangements.  We're going to try saving the seeds and roasting them. 


Yesterday, my son and I pulled up the onions.  Their tops had fallen over, the signal that they are ready.  We left them in the garden to dry and cure.  In a week or so, they will be ready for storage.  I wish I had planted more.  They look great and smell ever better!

"Cortland" and "Rossi di Milano" onions

I made the mistake of ignoring the carrots - they were doing so nicely and didn't need me fussing over them.  By the time I went to pull them, some were over sized and bitter.  Babette the cow was more than willing to take care of them for me!  We still made out with many good carrots.  I dehydrated a bunch of them and plan on throwing them into soups and stews this winter.  I may freeze some as well, but we're going to try storing most of them in our basement.  Our basement is old (1880's) and there are some cool damp corners that would work well for long term storage.  We plan on trying the "carrots in a bucket of damp sand" method.  Hope it works!

My daughter holding a variety of carrots.  Such a good little helper!

Oh, there are more things that we are harvesting right now - sweet corn, celery, sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatillos, basil, lemon cucumbers, watermelons - but I've bored you enough.  Stop by and see us!  Remember to bring a bag to take home some goodies.  

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