A commenter asked if things are growing. Are they ever! Winter ended quite suddenly, with feet of snow melting away in a matter of days. So it was time to get growing.

Here are the seedlings in the basement:

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If necessary (I’m also growing seedlings for friends and school gardens), I can add an extra shelf below.

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Some are hardening off on the porch:

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In the garden, the sorrel was the second to look all alive and ready to go:

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First were the onions, overwintered. They looked so dreary and slimy emerging from the snow, but then:

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I’ve got gardening nails again:

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The day before yesterday was a cruel and beautiful day. Temperatures rose to 50 F and the sun was ablast. The perfect day for going out there in the garden. But the garden is still nowhere to be seen. You walk on/in this snow and one step you’re on top of it, two feet taller, the next you’ve sunk in deep enough to get snow in your high boots..

I did what I could, digging out the hay and scaring the hens half out of their minds laying it down in their muddy run. I rearranged tarps over firewood stacks and… that was all I could do. So Amie and I started building a fort out of the wet, sticky snow. It was good to get all tired out, but it will be better to finally start gardening.

We also celebrated because the 2 to 3 feet thick sheet of ice and snow finally came off our roof. It was pretty scary and I wouldn’t have wanted to be under it. It raged in one thundering avalanche and the force of it actually bent our sturdy copper gutter. After exclaiming we celebrated, for finally, after over a month, we have solar again, both PV and water!

Yesterday I got the potting bench and the seedling bank with the heat mat and the lights back into action. It was a chore, because all winter long the basement has been the repository of empty canning jars, tools, cardboard boxes, crafting materials, etc. But we’re in good shape now, and as soon as my seed order from Fedco arrives I’ll sow the earlies, the onions, leeks and parsley.

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Lastly, we have a a couple of live and dead creatures added to the menagerie. In the fridge: a newly planted sequoia seed going into dormancy. In the freezer: a dead sparrow a friend rescued and brought over. In the living room, in a small plastic carrier: a wild field mouse I rescued from the bottom of the trash can. So far the poor thing hasn’t even touched the small piece of bacon we put in there.

Oh, the answer to the title question? No. Not yet. We’re getting freezing rain tomorrow.

Homeschooling is going even better than I had expected. We are sticking to a strict schedule in the mornings, with a steady core curriculum in math and language arts. In the afternoons we do Latin and, after that, we launch into our history/science module. I’d say the last one is our favorite along with logic, Latin and word roots. This is the pile of books accumulating in the subjects we’ve chosen for our science/history module:
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Yes, I know. But Amie and I both agreed we couldn’t start “History” with written history, or with the first humans, or the first life, or even the formation of our planet and so… we began with the Big Bang. And obviously we can’t do history apart from science. So: wonderful stuff!

Our first home school field trip was to the NOFA Mass Winter Conference. During lunch Amie went shopping at the stalls, all by herself. She had $5. After chatting with each farmer and herbalist and activist and whatnot, she got some fancy lip balm. We also bought bumper stickers. This one is her favorite and ended up on her cello case:

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On Friday we had our next field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has a great homeschool program. I got to walk the halls for an hour and a half, and located this poster:

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Soon we’ll have to open those seed catalogs and start planning the garden. At the NOFA conference I picked up a lot of information on trace minerals. We went with a group and divvied up the workshops among us. Next week we meet to discuss the many gardens now in play: our personal gardens (about four, some of them quite large), three large Community Garden Plots, and some School Gardens as well. These come with town-wide compost systems that take in scraps from the schools’ lunchrooms, pounds and pounds of coffee grounds from a local coffee shop, and now, also, kitchen scraps from the local Whole Foods. Lastly, the surplus goes to Food Pantries and shelters in the neighborhood.

I’ve not had time to write much here, but please stay tuned!

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Here it is, finally done, the new patio!

You may recall the old one, which was too small to be of use but, more importantly, installed so that with each flash rain that overflowed the gutter the rain was funneled into the basement. As a result, when the thing was demolished, we found a rotten sill. It turned out well, however. The rot didn’t extend to the rafters, didn’t even affect the entire sill, and there was no sign of termites. In fact, we got to meet a local, well-thought-of contractor who operates on his own: just the right man for several other jobs.

One of those being replacing the front door, the siding, and the big picture window, possibly with french doors.

But over the winter now (hard to think of winter since it’s 70 F outside) the main job is to design the front garden. I have a good idea of the desired effect (cf. this blog post). We also let the guys divert the roof runoff into an underground pipe, which exits at the spot where we’d like a wetland/pond, so we’re set up for that as well. And I’d like to better incorporate the apiary (all the way in the back left) and the veg garden (right of that). Then there is the trellis which will be built into the patio in spring.

I’m looking forward to having this extra “positive” space a a place of beauty, peace and gathering.

Well, 17 lbs is not bad for one and a half beds (4’x12′ total), in the shade and without topping up soil (I ran out). The red fingerlings were a bust, the yellow fingerlings did well, the idahoes did best. All seed potatoes were supermarket bought (organic) or came as sprouted (organic) potatoes from a friend.

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All laid out:
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A couple of weeks ago I had a nasty surprise. Workmen installed new oil tanks in our basement (one had started leaking; we have no gas on the street, and we heat very frugally with oil, but mostly with efficiently burned firewood). All was well. A week later I opened my freezer: everything was defrosted! The men had unplugged the freezer! I lost some meat and fish, but the hardest to lose were the soups, sauces, pesto and frozen dinners I had made with produce from the garden. I never really trusted freezing, and apparently I don’t need another power outage to confirm my apprehension. So, when I had all these surplus tomatoes, I decided to dry them in my ten-tray Excalibur.

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I dry them beyond leathery to crispy. Amie eats them like candy, while she will usually only reluctantly eat a cherry tomato. The taste is super concentrated.

A friend called me up this morning from the orchard and asked if I wanted peaches! A peck of seconds for $8? Sure! I got two pecks and will be making peach butter and peaches in syrup.

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It’s getting a little repetitious, but there were again many more tomatoes. The warm weather continues and there are still many fruits on the vines, so this may not be the last of ’em.

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I’m looking forward to next summer, when I’ll have the super sunny front patio to grow tomatoes, peppers (can you spot the red one) and eggplants. The crew starts work on it in a week or two.

I went into the bees just now and found very little honey, just four or so full frames. There are lots of frames half-filled, half-capped. The bees were hard at work there, though (at least I hope they were, and that they weren’t gorging on honey in preparation of a swarming!). So perhaps I just need to be a little more patient and I’ll get another ten or so frames from both hives.

The generation of hens – three two -year-olds, one one -year-old and four 6-month-old pullets – have been combined into one coop. There’s a quite a bit of pecking, but not too much. The poor one-year-old gets the worst of it. No eggs from the pullets yet.

I am so thankful to these chickens for many reasons, one of which follows. Amie had her kids’ birthday party on Sunday (we postponed it because in Summer many of her friends aren’t around) and I promised to make the heatwave cake. I had bought a dozen organic, free-range, extra large eggs at While Foods. What junk that was! The egg whites were like water, one whipping and the yolks turned beige. The first roll wasn’t up to my standards, so I made another one with an extra egg (that one failed because we just got a new-to-us range, and I must have pushed the wrong button; it was yummy but impossible to roll up). After french toast that morning, we had only 2 homegrown eggs left, but the hens laid three more, just in time for me to make one more roll, which was perfect. I’m happy I made that many, because the nine kids ate ALL THAT CAKE. It went so fast I didn’t get to take a picture.

School has started up again, which might mean that I’ll be able to blog more. No guarantees.
In the meantime, we get a harvest like this one almost every other day.

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I’ll have lots of elderberries to make syrup from, and the cukes and zucchinis will — be –pickled. The tomatoes are still going strong, and with this current unseasonably hot weather (90 F on Tuesday and again tomorrow, and nothing much lower in between) I may still be looking at lots of big fruits.

We also harvested our first grapes. Not much, and tiny, but o so sweet and flavorful!

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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.

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 3-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.