Ironic, that I didn’t intend to grow tomatoes – getting plenty of them from a local farmstand and from our CSA box – but that I put in just a few seedlings that a friend gave me, and some seedlings I grew to give away but never got to, and that now tomatoes are my most successful crop!

Today’s harvest:

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That big one weighs a pound and a half! All three ripe ones are Paul Robesons, officially the only big tomato I’ve ever been able to grow to maturity. A day or two on the counter will bring out their blush. They’re divine raw, sliced, with salt and pepper, or mixed into a cucumber salad.

I keep finding lots of green tomatoes on the ground. They don’t go to waste: I fry them up. There is also always a ripe or near-ripe one that is half eaten. Those go to the chickens, who love them.

Today we fired up the oven again and made pizza. We just wanted pizza so didn’t add the rocket stove to the mix for baking.

We found a good routine that doesn’t involve rushing. We burned a small fire for about 45 minutes, which was sufficient to bring the baking stone up to 850F: perfect for pizza! We then raked the coals to one side and made one pizza on the other side. When one side of the pizza was cooked, we rotated it. Then we took it out and, while we prepared the next pizza, we simply raked the coals back to the middle so it could regain a good temperature again.

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We did that for three pizzas and it worked wonderfully. We could easily have made three more with that system and without having to add more sticks to the fire.

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And here was today’s garden harvest:

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Quickly.

Made 25 pints of blueberry jam from Farmers Market berries and another batch from 5 quarts of berries Amie and I picked at a very locally IPM place with friends one thunderstormy afternoon. We came out of the field drenched but happy and surprised we had been picking for three hours. Our tribe will be co-purchasing and canning peaches again.

Blanched and froze 4 lbs of green beans, half of these from our garden, half donated by a friend whose community garden plots are going wild. We’ve been sharing a lot of produce, one garden producing more of this than the other.

Put together two 5-gallon carboys of sweet mead with the winterkill honey, which I pasteurized. They’re bubbling away in the basement and should be done in few weeks – but that won’t stop me from going down there and thieving some for a taste.

We’ve been consistently harvesting onions, green beans, cherry tomatoes (the bigger ones are almost there), kale, chard, squash, zucchini, cucumber and tons of herbs from the garden. That plus our farm share is more than sufficient for our needs, and when I walk into the supermarket nowadays I skip the produce section altogether. I only (and rarely) mushrooms, but then I just spotted an enormous chicken-of-the-woods in the neighborhood, beckoning. Come to think of it, all I buy at the supermarket is the very occasional fish or meat and butter, and predominantly milk.

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With our town’s Green Team had a booth at the Farmers Market yesterday. We displayed all the harvests from the school gardens – all of which went to the Food Pantry this morning – photos of our school composting systems, and talked to people. We also sold some of my Spring honey as a fundraiser, as well as purslane harvested (weeded) from all our gardens. We ended up giving lots of it away and having lots left over too. No worries: I brought it home and made it into potato-purslane soup, most of it for freezing. Yum!

The chickens have been consistent layers and we’re looking forward to the pullets starting to lay (in September or thereabouts)m at which point our bartering power will increase significantly. The two flocks are “together” – well, in the same shared space, namely the chicken yard – during the day, but at night they still retire to their own coops.

Lastly, how lovely, really, to get books delivered that you had forgotten you’d ordered. A big batch for me today: Pioneer Women by Stratton, Pioneer Women by Peavy and Smith, The Klamath Knot by Wallace, The Way to Rainy Mountain and In the Bear’s House, both by Momaday.

This is one of my favorite times of the year: the first harvests are coming in. For greens, we are eating kale, lettuce, chard and good king Henry, New Zealand spinach, mache, minutina, and celery. All the herbs – parsley, rosemary, sage, etc. are ready. The malabar spinach is almost ready and it’s a lovely climber that is colonizing the trelises that the unfortunate peas never climbed (we had only a pound or so, the bunnies ate the rest). The potatoes – from organic potatoes I bought at the supermarket – are growing like weeds. So are the tomato vines. No ripe tomatoes yet, though.

I’ve also started putting up. Yesterday I made a pile of basil from my garden, our CSA and the Farmers Market and made 8 jars of pesto (to freeze). I assembled rhubarb from the garden with some from the Farmers Market and red currants from a friend’s garden and canned 8 jars of rhubarb-red currant preserves. I’m tasting the white currants in my garden every day to get them when they’re just ripe. There are also grapes growing, lots of them, but those will take longer. If all the little nubbin figs on our one remaining tree make it, we’ll have twenty or so figs.

The chickens are laying four eggs a day. And there are four of them. Toothless, who got injured and started limping, then getting pecked on even more ruthlessly, went for a spa at my friend Katharina’s place while we were away. I didn’t want my intrepid chicken sitters to have to deal with a bloody, or worse, chicken. Toothless has her own little coop there to relax and recover.

Tomorrow I plan to go into my hives and take a full super off the strongest one (which swarmed during the week we were away!). I almost fell over when I lifted it off: full of honey! I’ll add a new super to that one and also one to the less strong hive. Both hives are making new queens.

Speaking of honey. I am enjoying the raspberry melomel I made a little over a year ago. It is mellow and tasty and not too alcoholic.

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But where were we all last week? Hanging out with this crazy bunch…

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… in the rain forest of Panama!

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More about that in some other post. I need to go water the garden, because it’s dry here.

My friend and fellow blogger Kath did a garden survey and inspired me to do the same. It was getting a bit darker on an already gloomy day and everything is still covered in yellow pollen dust, but I managed to snap some pictures.

We begin with Amie and the little chickens. They are now 8-9 weeks old and are spending the warmer days in the mini-coop, which sits in the chicken yard, but I still bring them in each evening. Amie loves “training” them. In this picture she is teaching Jenny to walk straight. (Jenny, by the way, may turn out to be a Kenny – thanks, Kath!).

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This while the other three looked on:

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More chicken fun:

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More serious:

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Out of the chicken yard, into the veg garden. The first thing you meet is the bunny gate. Bunnies ate two whole beds of dry beans. Because our CSA box has so many greens and tomatoes, etc., but never any beans, I planted lots of beans. (The bunnies liked only the dry beans, not the haricots, so they’re still going strong.) They also stripped the new blueberry bushes. Those too I fenced in – pictures of that later:

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The giant lovage, the lovely poppy a friend gave me behind it.

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Sage in bloom:

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Elderflowers:

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Lettuce, radichetta, onions and kale finally taking off:

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Raspberries in the making:

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We took the plastic off the hoop house for cleaning and will only remount it in Fall to extend the season. It will be good to have it off for the Summer, so the rain can thoroughly drench the beds and I don’t need to fight the overheating in there:

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We leave the veg garden and go into the back, where only a few unripe currants are still on the bush. This year, though, I’m very happy with how the currants have grown, finally:

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The kiwi vines are already humongous and it isn’t even Summer yet. The females have flowers again, many more of them than last year:

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I hope Anna’s hunch is correct (at Walden Effect) that these Ananasnayas are self-fertile, because I’d love some fruit from these two monsters:

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Our grape vines are making tiny grapes:

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Yesterday Wayland Walks, a very active offshoot of Transition Wayland, arranged a long mushroom walk with author/adventurer/mycologist Lawrence, aka Larry, Millman (picture). It was packed with discoveries, learning and humor, as Larry has a great way of sharing his knowledge and is a fountain of mushroom lore.

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It had rained just before the walk so I had fresh mushrooms growing on the wood chips in my garden paths. I plucked one and brought it, and Larry identified it as…

King Stropheria, aka Winecap

Well. That’s the mycelium I purchased and then “sowed” in 2012 (blog post here) and that never materialized, where I had sowed them, at least. So I doubt this is that mycelium, but somehow that’s what was growing on these wood chips.

Larry called them “Grade B Edibles,” but he couldn’t dampen my joy. My mycology hobbyist neighbor had said not to eat them (she never eats the gilled mushrooms, as the majority aren’t edible). Larry would say: they might edible, but they might be the last thing you eat. But so these are edible.

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I plucked another one this morning and made this spore print of it. Wild!

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This has been/still is a hard winter. It’s been one snow storm after another, with long stretches of below freezing temperatures.  Three weeks ago I caught a bug which developed into pneumonia – hence the silence here – and now that I’ finally up and about, Amie caught something as well. That’s how it goes. The winter was hard on the bees as well: all three colonies are dead of starvation in boxes still half full of capped honey.  They just didn’t have the chance to break cluster and move toward the honey.

But things are stirring. Before yesterday’s snow flurries we actually saw dirt. Then it got covered up again, but all that should be washed away by tonight’s rain and tomorrow we may see some outdoor activities. I plan to wash all the seedling trays and pots so I can start the basement garden. If I’m up for it, I’ll also clean out the chicken coop: there’s some good compost in there after months of deep litter.

A couple of days ago I (hot-water-bath) canned the sauerkraut that had been fermenting in big jars on my counter for seven weeks. I usually don’t can kraut as it pasteurizes it (duh!) and kills off all the good bugs. Still, I had too much of it to keep in the fridge, and as I’m the only one who eats it round here, I decided to reserve one jar for the fridge and can the rest.  I hope the canning doesn’t make it too soggy. I like it crunchy.

 

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This afternoon, taking advantage of the warmer weather and the abeyance of snow/rain, I spent a good three hours splitting, moving and stacking close to 1/4 cord of firewood. While I was at it I conversed with the chickens, whose coop is next to the woodpile and the chopping block (eek).

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Two friends happened by to admire my ax form and give me gifts! A. gave me a huge bag of carrots she and her family pulled at our CSA Farm’s carrot pull last weekend, and R. brought me a pumpkin she grew in her garden. I moved all the split wood to the porch and then the sun set.

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I came in and started a fire in the stove, which sealed the deal: a hot shower was in order to wash away the sweat, dust, wood splinters, soot and muscle stiffening. I give thanks for hard work, the reward of warmth, and friendship.