Can we do it? Yes, we can!

The last few weeks have been busy. All our hard work is beginning to pay off and we have moved into happy harvest mode! We have been waiting for what feels like months for the pale green bell peppers to turn red. We did eat a couple at the green stage but then stuck firm and waited for them to ripen. I’m glad we did, the red peppers are amazing. They are a variety called “Gypsy” and are supposed to be prolific fruiters. They haven’t dissappointed us yet!

Also in the “glut” department has been the Russian kale, which we both love, luckily. I have been making sag paneer with it and it works amazingly well in place of spinach. I even made a kale and mushroom lasagne, it was amazing. Russian kale isn’t as bitter as the stuff you buy in the supermarket so it’s not as disgusting in lasagne as it sounds! It doesn’t really work for kale chips though, you just end up with flat, dried kale leaves, tasty but unfulfilling.

The cucumbers have decided to kill us with kindness. We can’t turn around for another 40 on the vine, ready to be picked. We only have two plants varieties called “White Spine” and “Spacesaver” and honestly, I can’t really tell the difference. They are all the size of footballs. Luckily the chickens love pecking at the inside of an oversized cucumber!

The strawberries did well, but as is the way of strawberries there are never enough. I will have to buy some to make jam with because we ate all ours!

This week the basil has seriously started to go mad, so next week there will definitely be a pesto making session.

I haven’t even mentioned the tomatoes, I am in awe of the incredible yellow pear tomato. Despite getting a really late frost, and me being daft and putting them outside far too early, and an infestation of the almighty tomato hornworm, which the chickens were delighted with, and despite us almost completely failing to tie them in properly, the harvest has been legendary. A few of the red variety “Rutgers” survived the frost and the flooding and have been keeping us busy but the “Yellow Pears” have gone crazy. I am constantly wondering what to do with another large bowl of them. So far we have had them raw (obv), roasted in oil, made yellow tomato relish, chutney, green tomato chutney (windstorm that toppled a couple of plants), pasta sauce, salsa, enchilada sauce and this week I even sun dried a few. I am considering having a go at ketchup.

The zucchini (courgette) has also been producing. I planted two plants really because if nothing else will grow in a garden, at least the zucchini will. Two plants were about one and a half plants too many as Al absolutely refuses to eat them. I mean, I like them but who could possibly eat two plants worth of zucchini? I might have a go at stuffing the flowers before the fruits get a chance to develop.

Pollinators R Us!

This month the homestead has been a very busy place. The bees we introduced into their hive are doing well. A few worries, like the fact that they decided to raise a new queen for some reason, but still buzzing away. We have also noticed a whole host of other pollinators including bumble bees, dragonflies, other solitary bees and a ton of butterflies. In particular we have noticed several Monarch butterflies. It’s hard to not notice them, they are particularly large and beautiful and it was while attending an online course on pollinating insects that I discovered that they are on the verge of becoming an endangered species.

They really are remarkable, they spend time with us here in Illinois in June, lay their eggs on one species only, milkweed, and after raising 5 generations or so, migrate in September down to Mexico. They vacate in the warmer climes for three months or so and then start their journey back to us, raising a quick generation of young in Texas. These butterflies raised in Texas then make their way back to Illinois to delight us in June.

So, with this in mind, I ordered some milkweed seeds and then totally forgot to do anything with them! Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago I noticed a Monarch butterfly anyway. Okay, so to be honest I didn’t really know what milkweed looked like. It turns out we have about three acres of the stuff in the land that we couldn’t clear this spring because the mower broke down. I did the initial post winter mow and then left it to its own devices. Perfect for the milkweed apparently! Despite its name it really is a pretty plant, smells nice too. I haven’t been able to get a picture of a Monarch butterfly yet, they fly off into the butterfly sanctuary we have apparently cultivated and it’s hard to follow them but I have managed to capture some others. All identifications are guesses, trying to match them against my butterfly book, it’s hard because no two butterflies are really the same! There is also a bright yellow butterfly that I can’t get close enough to photograph, with no photo it’s very hard to identify them. I will keep trying and I am determined to photograph a Monarch!

Dragonfly
Milkweed with bumble bee and other wildlife
Pale Swallowtail
Pearly-eyed Satyr
Tailed-Blue butterfly (inside the wings are a gorgeous blue)

How does your (veg) garden grow…

OK here’s our early June garden update, so far everything seems to be doing well (the Sunflowers did not germinate though and the French Beans seem rather reluctant). We have started the anti critter trench but so far the motion activated lights seem to be working, a few weeks ago I saw a couple of them come on and then saw the silhouette of a rabbit running away. Mack is doing his bit too.

View from the gate: Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and in the second bed from the right, potatoes (three varieties of fingerling and a main crop) and sweet potatoes. In the next bed, tomatoes (two varieties) where the posts are and we have a strawberry bed and peas along the opposite fence.
First bed from the gate, Suzie planted sesame seeds, peanuts and zucchini/courgette today. This is the bed with the (so far) no show french beans and pak choi which is doing great.
Brassica bed.
Tomatoes.
Strawberries – we are already eating them and they are delicious! And at the end two varieties of cucumber, one salad and one for pickles.
One of several bowls of strawbs we have harvested. Suzie made yoghurt too which may be combined at some point.
Sugar snap peas, will soon be up the fence.
Sweet potatoes growing for the first time.
Asparagus, these will need a year or three before we can harvest.
Why can we not develop foods that grow as well as weeds? This is Suzie’s umpteenth bucket full.
Our sweetcorn has germinated, if you look closely.
The critter proofing on the outside of the garden has begun, stay tuned.

Chicken Update

Today I remembered to take my phone with me up to the chicken coop and thought you might all enjoy the following couple of movies. Bear in mind I had just woken up, no coffee, no hairbrush etc. The chickens, as always, are camera ready! They woke up this way.

Happy that they have finally found their upstairs!

Here are the two videos:

Early morning, after a bad night! I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards! But of course still have reading glasses on because I sleep in them!

Hunt the chickens!

Hope you enjoyed breakfast with our chickens!

Anti-depression Photos

We have had a ton of rain lately, including thunder and lightning, even a tornado watch last night, and so work has slowed here on the homestead. With all the scary and depressing news out there in the world it has been an effort to keep things in perspective. With that in mind I took a wander around the property today and snapped a few anti-depression pics. Hope you all enjoy.