7.28.2013 Summer Doldrums

I’ve reached the summer slump.   We had a week of really hot and humid followed by a week of not so hot and not at all humid.

I lost one hen to the heat, two have gone broody and the rest of the working girls have gone part time. The three pullets I managed to hatch this spring are starting to color up and they should begin laying soon – should being the operative word.  They are all Speckled Sussex and I haven’t much faith in the breed any more.  In fact, I have decided to send 30 of my 40 laying hens to the freezer in the next couple of months.  I’m keeping only the yearlings and the three pullets.  In a few weeks, 25 new chicks will arrive – females only of good laying bloodlines.  Cuckoo Marans, Black Austrolorps, Araucauna, Leghorns and Red Sex Links – that should give me a good mix of white, brown, dark brown and green to blue eggs – in six months or seven months  The economics of chickens, I have discovered, makes maintaining a breeding flock of heritage birds a venture for the wealthy.

The bees are just sort of hanging out – the orange hive is still struggling with small hive beetles and I’ve forced it down to one super to minimize free space. I also put the bottom boards back on all my hives on the observation that when I removed them that’s when the small hive beetles and wax moths were able to get a foothold.

With all the rain we’ve had this year, the pastures never went dormant and I’ve had to mow at least once a month, especially in the chicken enclosure and the horse pasture.  My horse is muzzled nearly full time now and she gets really annoyed and desperate when the grass gets tall.  Which is a long way of saying all this mowing has taught me something new about heavy metal.

The first real cold front of the year arrived a two months early.  It cleared the air leaving behind the sort of technicolor day that makes it all worthwhile, no matter how many failures I accumulate.

The first real cold front of the year arrived two months early. It cleared the air leaving behind the sort of technicolor day that makes it all worthwhile, no matter how many failures I accumulate.

I wasn’t born on a tractor.  All I know about them I learned at the dealership when they showed me how to drive the darn thing and how to attach and work the tiller and the bush hog.  Because I don’t know anything beyond that, I tend to leave things as they are.  My husband, however, well, he’ll rearrange things to suit himself.  He wasn’t born on a tractor either.  That’s how we discovered the real and true purpose behind the little chains on the implements – the chains that really seem to serve no purpose and just get in the way.

Such a wee little chain for such a big chunk of heavy metal.

Such a wee little chain for such a big chunk of heavy metal.

 

But without that wee little chain this happens . . .

But without that wee little chain this happens . . .

I have also discovered the wonders of lubricant.  For the last couple of weeks, the PTO hook up has been more difficult than usual, really difficult, like to the point of calling in professional help difficult.  Then I gave all the connections a shot of spray lubricant.  Oh, happy day!  Then when the wheel on the bush hog locked up sideways and dredged a rut in the yard on the way to the pasture, it got its own lube job.  I guess all the humidity just had locked everything up tight.

After a proper lubing, the wheel is free turning again, but the damage to the yard and the driveway was already done.

After a proper lubing, the wheel is free turning again, but the damage to the yard and the driveway was already done.

The blackberry patch is the bright spot on the farm right now.  It smells like a winery out there.  I’m picking a bushel a week out right now and I am tempted to double the size of the plot for next year.  Either way, it’s been fun trying to find the perfect cobbler recipe.  Learning how to handle them once they are picked has been interesting too.  Lesson one: don’t wash them until right before you use them.  Lesson two: place them directly into whatever container you plan to store them in and keep it shallow.  Too many layers of berries and the ones on the bottom get crushed.

The garden, however, is a huge disappointment.  The spring brassicas were a total failure as were the summer plantings of squash and pumpkins.  The squash bugs aren’t bad this year, but between the vine borers and the brown marmorated stink bugs, the squashy things didn’t stand a chance.  I had a four week run of really good cucumbers, but now the vines are dead and I can’t get new ones past the bugs.  The only things in that family that are still alive are a few melon plants and the two louffa gourd plants that I put in on a whim.  I’ve got some canteloupes coming in the straw bales and some kind of white mystery melon that is just too bitter to be edible.  Must be one I picked up at the school nursery to fill out a flat.  The name tag is down there in the vines somewhere and when I find it, that variety is going on the naughty list.

The beans – oh, wow, did I really mess those up.  The Gold of Bacau came in and produced well for a couple of weeks, but they were just so pointless – no flavor raw or cooked and they didn’t stand up to any sort of cooking whatsoever.  Then the vines started dying.  The MaCaslan 42’s took a long time to get started and when they finally came in, they weren’t very prolific and were stringy no matter how young I picked them.  Life is too short for stringy beans.  I’ve pulled down all the pole beans and reseeded with basic Kentucky Wonders, but who knows if I will I get a crop this late.

The butterbeans are still thinking, the black eyed peas are nearly ready but so few of them came up.  I have another planting of two varieties of bush beans that are just now beginning to flower, but they’ve got bug issues.  So, long story short, no beans of any consequence.

The tomatoes –  early blight, late blight, too much rain, too much cool, too much hot.  They are beginning to recover as we’ve had some sunny, dry days but it’s been really difficult to get a decent tomato this year.

The lettuce in the shade house has finally reached a harvestable size.  Most of it is quite bitter.

The sweet potatoes are in and growing, not going gangbusters, just growing.

The peppers, both hot and sweet, were a complete disaster and I don’t even know why I bother with eggplant.  The Italian variety is just now overcoming its buggy doldrums and may yet bear, but the Brazilian Oval Orange was a waste of time – a tad too small to be useful and too bitter to be worthy of the deep fryer.

The first batch of onions, the ones from the co-op cured nicely and are working their way through the kitchen raw and cooked.  The second batch, ones I started from seed this winter in milk jugs out on the deck, they did less well, but they are drying down on the rack my husband and daughter made for me.  The leeks and the third batch of onions are struggling.  The leeks might make it.  The onions, not likely.

Made of scrap wood and tobacco sticks, this simple rack has all the makings of a great addition to the barn.  Thanks to the husband and the daughter!

Made of scrap wood and tobacco sticks, this simple rack has all the makings of a great addition to the barn. Thanks to the husband and the daughter!

With this mixed bag of a garden, I am suddenly faced with the prospect of the fall and winter plantings.  It should come as no surprise that I am a month behind in getting things started for the fall garden.  With all the trouble I had getting lettuce and spinach started this spring, it feels like delusions of grandeur to plan whole rows of the stuff.  But I am trying any way, hoping that fresh seed will be the difference.  And low tunnels.

However, just when I had it all planned out, the first fall and winter forecasts began surfacing on the internet.  Cold and wet.  Really cold.  People up in the New England are saying the maples are already beginning to turn.  Locally, squirrels and beavers are apparently stashing munchies like the apocalypse is imminent.  Tonight in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, temperatures will be dropping into the thirties.  Ay caramba!  Tell me again, why does anyone even try to farm for a living?

 

I shared this post at The Backyard Farming Connection Blog Hop #43.


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