August

July and August are frenetic months. Facebook memories pop up nearly everyday from the past 15 years about being overworked, overtired, worn out, burning the candle at both ends. All my friends, all my neighbors, are busy too this time of year. It makes sense as we live in a place with a short season with only so much time to get summer projects done and to prepare for the long winter.

But.

I have worn my summer season exhaustion like a badge of honor, feeling an inward satisfaction every time someone says “Wow, you are so busy” for too long. I don’t want to live that way anymore. There is no joy in working yourself to death. And so, I now have to remind myself it is ok to let things go in my quest to create new, healthier habits. “I can only do what I can do.” Being stressed out all the time is not any way to live. I am taking many notes this season on how to streamline the farm so I can spend more time in the future on the lake, more time with the horses, more time playing with my kids, more time in the wilderness, more time with friends.

Homeschool classes started this past Monday and the structured days have helped me set more realistic goals of what can be accomplished in a day, in a week. (Or try to. We ate dinner after 9pm last night when turkey butchering extended into the evening.) Saturday mornings are for harvesting produce to send out to McCarthy to be turned into restaurant fare. The rest of the week is weeding, watering, homestead harvesting and chores, and overseeing homeschool classes. This summer has slipped by quietly and quickly and the arrival of fall has caught me off guard. Fall, already?

The August full moon

The beets began to really hit their stride the week of July 19th and I have been harvesting steadily every week since. 4 succession plantings seems to be a good fit for our zone.

I butchered the meat chickens July 25th and was glad to begin culling the annual livestock (though not actually enjoying the butchering process.) It is a lot of work to do as one person, four times as fast with two. But butchering continues to be a farm activity in which the kids firmly refuse to involve themselves. The farm has been a little chaotic this season with the pigs, ducks, chickens, turkeys, and horses. With the horses back to work at hunting camp and the meat chickens in freezer camp, the daily chores have eased a bit.

Currently the emerging drakes need to be butchered (I am just now able to tell who is a boy with their maturing drake feathers) and a few persistently broody chickens. Fluffy, the single duckling from midsummer, has finally decided that he/she is indeed a duck and not a human and is living with the big ducks at 6 weeks old. The first three nights we attempted to keep the duckling outside, Fluffy escaped the garden fence to peep frantically at our door asking to come back inside for the night (which we allowed). But now, finally, happy as duck rather than human, Fluffy has turned his/her back on us. I would miss the duck company except we have a new kitten, Apollo, who has turned the domestic pet hierarchy in our home upside down, so we have plenty going on inside and out.

Farm kitty

I finally butchered the turkeys last night after putting it off for several days. I have two beautiful carcasses cooling in the fridge now before heading to the freezer. One was 20 pounds 7 ounces, the other 15 pounds even. Now that it is done I can revamp the meat bird pen into duck pen and move the ducks out of the perennial garden so I can work on that area this September. Ducks are noisy especially at night. Between the ducks and the new kitten waking me up several times a night, I have been unpleasantly reminded of what the nights (and following bleary days) with a newborn were like. I am looking forward to a quieter yard.

I have had spectacular flowers in the garden for the pollinators (and me) thanks to the July heat this year. The poppies, peonies, lemon gem marigold, phacelia, nasturtium, yarrow and buckwheat flowers have been busy with insects buzzing about. The hard August rains and frost nips have knocked many of these back from their peak, but I still have a few poppies, sweet peas, nasturtium (in the tunnels) and strawflowers hanging in. I think most of my sunflowers will be too late to bloom this year as they are just budding up now but that is entirely my fault as I started them too late. Same with the calendula, so I dug up 5 plants, potted them up and put in the greenhouse in the hopes of harvesting some September flowers.

Tomatoes and cucumbers have been a challenge in the greenhouse. It was so hot in July that the female cucumber fruits died on the vine. They are recovering and have fruits on the vines now, but growth is slower as it gets chillier. The indeterminate tomatoes look good but are ripening ever so slowly. I have been stingy with my greenhouse firewood as I have only a small supply this year but think I will need to keep the temperature warmer to get a good harvest. The pepper plants are covered in green fruits but also seem to be ripening very slowly. At least I do not have slugs in the greenhouse this year! The low tunnel determinate tomatoes in the market garden have done far better. So far, I have 4 gallons of ripe whole tomatoes frozen that I will turn into sauce later this fall and many more ripening up. Freezing whole tomatoes intended for sauce later is a great time saving trick in the summer (especially if you use a food mill to remove the seeds and skins when you thaw them).

Mountain Miracle. Slicers have been a challenge for me, always growing with a mealy texture. Until this one! Best. Tomato. Ever.

We have had two light frosts so far, one on July 31st when it just barely hit 31° and 30° at 4 A.M. on August 22 which nipped the tops of the potatoes and all the buckwheat flowers. We had covered everything we could with frost blankets. The voles are very happy to have the extra cover to munch away while the hawks cannot see them. Speaking of voles, I had a funny experience when emptying the vole traps. I had made a little vole pile in the middle of my main garden walkway to move out of the garden later. I got distracted by some other chore and looked for them the next day to take them away. Gone. So, I left the next collection out too to see what would happen. I don’t know if it is hawks or owls, but somebody is enjoying the vole buffet!

The raspberries really started producing as we came into August, and I have been attempting to diligently pick every other day. The sparrows do not seem to be hitting them as hard this year and we have over 10 gallons in the freezer and lots in our bellies. Production is slowing down as we hit the end of the month, but it has been a spectacular berry year with large, sweet berries.

I harvested the garlic on August 17th. Usually, I harvest in early August. Most of the varieties were spot on but a few new types I had tried this year were over mature. The garlic was late up this year and behind on producing scapes, so I was surprised that some were overgrown. The wet weather complicates garlic harvest but with rain forever in the forecast I went ahead and pulled them, rinsed off the soil and hung them up to cure in our guest cabin. I am hopeful they will dry down in time and that I will have enough large cloves to replant this September.

The carrot season is beginning and soon it will be time to empty all those beds too and put them up for sale. My days in the next weeks will be occupied with blanching and freezing, drying, and canning to preserve our food for the winter. Digging up the potatoes will soon be on the list as well!

An autumn chill is in the air and the willows are losing more of their verdant greenery every day. Yellow leaves are appearing and heralding that fall is here! I do love this time of year with the overflowing totes of vegetables, fresh meat, and a nip of cold.

August harvest basket

It is not all sunshine and rainbows on the farm. It just happens that harvest time joy has a way of overshadowing all the rough bits. There are weeds going to seed, pens that desperately need to be mucked out, overgrown paths to mow. Undone projects abound and to do lists flutter around the house like snowflakes. Nearly constant rain and cold temperatures this month rotted my bean and winter squash harvests.

Ok. Bummer.

Every year has crop failures which is why we plant a diversity of things to ensure that when some founder, others thrive. The rotting plants will go in the compost to become soil and start over next year. I harvest, take notes, and start planning for next year with the hard won lessons from this one. Most of all, I stop to appreciate what was possible this year and realize how truly good it all is. Garden resilience!

From my garden to yours, happy harvesting!

Garden Maintenance

Garden overwhelm is a thing and, oh boy, is it here. While different from the harvest overwhelm looming on the horizon, mid season overwhelm can be very, well…overwhelming! There is not a single direction I can look on my farm without viewing partially finished projects and things in need of attention. Weeding here, mulching there, trimming here, mowing there. My string trimmer died in the heat and seemingly overnight the raspberry patch has grown out of control. Fireweed, wild raspberries, and grass has grown up and through the two layers of garden fencing that has not yet been secured together. Piles of 1020 trays are still waiting to be washed, dried and stored for next year. The potatoes need to be hilled, the broccoli needs to be mulched and I need to secure the second silage tarp over the horsetail beds I am trying to eradicate.

The July garden

I did manage to spend a fair amount of June weeding because I have learned these past 18 years that the more you weed in June, the easier it is to maintain your garden for the rest of the season. It is so important to keep up with weeding when the soil is dry and the weeds are, hopefully, still small. The strawberry spinach, fireweed, plantain and willow herb are racing to produce seed before I get around to yanking them out. Garden plants and garden undesirables seemingly double in size overnight this time of year. Usually about the time the garden is fully planted and I feel like congratulating myself on a well weeded space, the cottonwood and willows send out their fluffy seeds to coat the ground. Baby trees in waiting. Lovely. They like to root along the drip lines and grow incredible root systems while you are distracted by picking beets and zucchini.

My days these past weeks are not really going as planned. I had intended to work in the garden every day until I completed a thorough deep weeding. Instead I have been butchering a spring bear that went into the freezer as quarters and needed to be processed into meals, as well as 4th of July family festivities at the lake, and cleaning and consolidating freezers. I really need to spend a day on the backhoe turning compost and prepping the ground where we are setting a pad for the new greenhouse I want to build this winter. The recent stretch of hot weather has called for midday impromptu cousin swim parties and choosing chores that did not require quite so much sweat equity. Just the daily chores this time of year can fill the entire day. So much for the plan to “just’ weed this week. I have been pulling some of the larger ones in flower by hand but will hopefully get in there with my arsenal of tools soon.

Cheery marigold flowers

I have collected quite a few weeding tools that I use to maintain my garden beds. As I get older I have started using more ergonomically designed tools where I can weed rapidly while standing. I have a Mutineer tool (designed by Neversink Farms and sold through them as well as Johnnys Selected Seeds) with a head that can change out several styles and sizes of implements. I use it in the spring with a large wire weeder to quickly clear a bed of thread stage weeds and this time of year with a stubby collinear hoe to slide under my drip tape and between my closely spaced plants.

I use a hand held Japanese style hoe for hand weeding. This tool can pry, slice, or dig out any weed and root. While it is far slower to creep along a garden bed on your knees with a hand weeder, this tool definitely has its place in the garden weeding regime to clear a bed of pesky weeds or for precision work.

I regularly use a harvest knife to remove horsetail around tender plants like green beans without damaging the garden plants. Sometimes I know there will be more damage done if I try to remove an entire unwanted plant and its roots and I just want to slice it off just below soil level. A knife is great for this.

My all time favorite weeding tool is the scuffle hoe. This tool is operated while standing using a push and pull motion. The u-shaped implement is sharped on both sides and can quickly rout out any weeds, large or small. I like how powerful it is and that you do not have to bend over to use it effectively. I use this tool extensively in the spring to prep beds and this time of year to remove weeds that grew up unnoticed and are about to seed. I use a coarse file to keep both edges sharp.

Despite the arsenal of weeding tools at my disposal and the time spent weeding, the weeds still seem to be winning even though the summer rains have not yet started. I suppose that is the side affect of living on the edge of the Boreal forest where native seeds can float in to reclaim their territory the moment you pause maintenance on your garden beds. I have to remind myself sometimes that not all weeds are bad. I enjoy coming across familiar friends who self seeded last year: a chamomile or catnip. Many weeds such as lambs quarter, strawberry spinach, and chickweed are useful and edible. Plantain makes a great spit poultice to soothe all the horsefly bites but seeds so prolifically I remove it when I see it knowing there will be more. The two weeds I personally struggle with the most are horsetail and shepherds purse. One is nigh on impossible to eradicate and the other is host to the cabbage root maggot. I have spent more time than I care to think about fighting with these two. Weeds are natures way of filling the void, the first line of rescuers to repair damaged soil. The bottom line is that if weeds are coming up than I have not done my job well enough to keep the soil covered in plants that I do want. Something to strive for.

In the perennial garden, despite the ducks, the lilacs are blooming and their scent is uplifting.

The groundwork for the new greenhouse project has finally begun after deconstructing the previous infrastructure. We moved the old greenhouse across the yard in the spring and just got three dump truck loads of gravel to spread into a level pad. Spreading gravel with the loader bucket is challenging; it is not as easy as a bulldozer. There is still a lot of work to be done before I have a level pad.

One lonely duckling has joined the farm. The sole survivor of two eggs in the incubator, this ancona wants to spend the day in our hood or pocket rather than alone in the tote.

The heat of June has passed and we are back to cool, rainy weather. The garden plants like it better than the dry heat and so do the weeds. We have our work cut out for us!

From my garden to yours, happy growing!