Bonafide Farm

Birds on a wire

June 15th, 2013 § 2

Thursday night I was putting the chickens to bed and looked up to see all five baby bluebirds from the first hatch sitting on the garden fence. It was pretty awesome. They stuck around long enough for me to grab my phone and take this shot, which isn’t great because it was almost dark. But they’re there, and still all together!

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It was wonderful to see them all doing so well.

Then, as I was making my tea Friday morning I looked out to see blue feathers in the grass by the porch. My heart sank. It’s amazing to me how around here joy can turn to sorrow with just the sight of feathers on the ground.

I went outside and found this little gal (?) I think she flew into the glass panel at the bottom of the porch.

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She wasn’t dead, but her legs looked a little crumpled. I picked her up to make sure they weren’t.

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She did that thing birds do where she closed her eyes and deflated, a sign I know as shock and a leap toward death. So I quickly put her back down in the grass and ran in the house for some rescue remedy. I dribbled a few drops on her head and retreated to watch her through the window. In about a minute her closed eyes opened and she picked up her head to look around. It was a 180 degree turn. I was preparing a tiny bowl of water for her when she jumped up and flew off in the direction of her old nest box. Her dad flew out from attending to his second family. The little girl perched in the base of an evergreen, and when I checked back a few minutes later, she had flown away.

Golden armor

June 14th, 2013 § 0

[Written last night, but not posted before the internet cut out from the wind.]

It was a strange day. Spent all last night and today waiting for a predicted severe weather event that never happened, at least not here. A magical, beautiful package arrived, and I did lots of reading about unseen forces, struggling with suspension of disbelief versus emotional intelligence and things I see right in front of me clear as day. Change is afoot in this house, and I welcome it.

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I looked up around 7:30 this evening to see the most golden light I’ve ever experienced here flooding the yard. Each clover in the lawn was aglow. Of course I ran to it with the camera and this is what I came away with in the minute and and twelve seconds it was alive. Tucker was nosing around next to me. Maybe that’s a lens flare, maybe it’s his aura? Purple and green, the head and the heart, spirituality and nature.

Now it’s very windy as a cold front, maybe more, comes through, and the lights and internet connection keep flicking off and on. I hear the branches tossing outside, and it sounds like the ocean.

Early June vegetable garden tour: Part two

June 14th, 2013 § 0

The garden tour continues with a pepper patch, in the foreground below, some dahlias, and giant volunteer pumpkin. I couldn’t figure out where all the pumpkins were coming from, as I’ve never successfully grown any in my garden. And then I remembered that all last winter I split my Halloween pumpkins open and fed them to the chickens as they were penned in the garden. A ha!

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It was a tough call, but I just ripped out all the volunteer pumpkins. I’d love to grow them, but I just don’t have the space. It’s only June and the vines were already overtaking the garden, shading plants I actually am trying to cultivate (like the dahlias). So out they came.

You can also see my squash experiment, above, growing up a post. Ever since I’ve had this garden I’ve battled squash bugs, which have always killed my vines about the time they set their first fruit. This year I said no more squash—too much a waste of resources and space for something that’s bound to die and also cheap to buy in the grocery.¬†Then I came across something that suggested growing squash vertically, as the squash bugs multiply more rapidly when hiding under leaves near the ground. So I used these volunteer squash plants as guinea pigs, tying them up the posts with strips of plastic bag and trimming off the leaves closest to the ground. Despite seeing (and killing) just a handful of squash bugs, the vine below has already succumbed to something. Le sigh. The vegetable that most people can’t give away fast enough eludes me. I think I will do a post-mortem and cut open the stem looking for squash vine borers.

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My little “Glass Gem” corn patch is doing well. The stalks have about doubled in the days since taking this photo. The several inches of rain we’ve had in the last week are working wonders in the gardens. More caged dahlias, too, just budding out. The trick of starting them in pots in April has really worked—they are many weeks ahead of where they were last year when started in the ground.

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One of my new favorite plants, borage, below. I don’t know why, but I am so drawn to this plant that it’s kind of nuts. It has wide, fuzzy leaves that taste just like cucumber.¬†

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That was exciting enough for me, but then I planted it out and it pulled this trick—blooming with one of the most lovely flowers I’ve seen. There’s something magical about this plant for me. I am just waiting to learn from it.

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A better shot of my new dahlia cages. They seem to be working extremely well—we’ll see how they do when the plants get five feet tall!

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Since taking these photos, I ripped out the old spinach, took out the volunteer pumpkins, weeded, and mulched the entire garden with rotted straw. All the recent rain at the start of the growing season, and more on the way, helps put us in good shape heading in to summer. Up next, a tomato-only tour.

Early June vegetable garden tour: Part one

June 13th, 2013 § 0

I know I am way overdue with a vegetable garden update. In fact, I haven’t even posted much of anything about the veg garden this whole spring, even though I started working in there in March. The ensuing three months were taken up with gardening, not writing about gardening, so that means we will just jump right into a lush summer garden and skip all the photos of bare spring dirt.

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Starting in the foreground of the shot above, I have various lettuces and flowering arugula growing around the sugar snap pea. supports. Then, up the right side of the path are a row of zinnias, the peas, flowering radishes, Red Russian kale, Lucullus Swiss Chard, some dill, and the entry path. Then come some Dragon’s Tongue beans, then my patch of 11 tomatoes underplanted with various basils, a row of mixed wax, green and purple beans, and finally my Glass Gem corn. Up along the fence on the right side are sunflower and cosmos seedlings, and tucked here and there are tomotillos, hyacinth beans, poppies, and a volunteer squash.

Up the left side of the path are, out of view of this photo, sweet peas at the fence, Victoria rhubarb, another row of zinnias, more sweet peast, radishes, then overwintered spinach that’s about to be ripped out and replanted, cilantro, parsley, borage, thyme, a row of red Swiss Chard, overwintered bok choy and yellow chard, blueberries, strawberries, then a row of mustard, followed by rows of arugula and mache. Then some rogue ruffled kale seedlings, and about eight pepper plants. After that we get into the dahlia forest, interplanted with rows of zinnias, followed by the cucumber trellis, a squash, then even more dahlias, nasturtium seedlings, and my mint patch. Whew!

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Let’s get closer. Up above are the various greens. The blue flowering plants are borage, and the mustard is blooming yellow. The radishes on the left have beutiful light pink flowers, and they’ve made “radish beans.”

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These radish seed pods are actually more delicious, to me, than the radishes. I am glad I let this crop go to seed and discovered a new treat.

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From the top: Peas, radishes, Red Russian Kale, Lucullus Swiss Chard

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I find Red Russian kale to be one of the most beautiful plants I grow. Every thing about it, from the shape of the leaves to their color, pleases me. Last year my first seeding was preyed on by some sort of stink bug, but this year that bug has held off long enough for me to get a few leaves of my own. I suspect that it will only be a matter of time until the kale falls victim to some other bug, though. Such is the nature of (my) organic garden.

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The snow peas are finally coming on. I am puzzled by snowpeas. The seed packets say to sow here in February or March. Well, February just seemed brutal to try to get something to grow, so I waited and sowed in March. It was a month before seedlings emerged. I didn’t get a great germination rate (they were old seeds), so I interplanted with new seedlings in April. These newer plants quickly caught up to the earlier-seeded siblings, just as of of my favorite gardening books said they would. I think this spring’s weather, which has alternated between highs in the mid-90s and being downright chilly, has the peas in a tizzy. I’ll be lucky to get a few delicious handfuls, and that will be it before I rip them out to plant something else. Central VA just doesn’t have the climate for growing these cool-season crops.

Up next: the rest of the garden…

Things that go bump in the night

June 12th, 2013 § 1

Last night, right in the middle of one of my usual nightmares, I was awoken by a terrifying sound. It was coming from directly in front of and below my bed, and sounded like heavy footsteps right on my front porch. I lay silent, blind eyes open in the dark. Then I heard it again, several loud thumps, booted feet just outside.

Cold adrenaline filled my veins in the time it took to sit up and and turn on the light by the bed. It was just after 1:00 a.m. I opened my nightstand and took out the can of pepper spray that’s always there. For an ironic second I remembered the recent day I visited my friend Aaron and he showed me a small Glock pistol, suggesting it would be a good thing to have stashed in a bedroom drawer. He, like most of the men who know how I live out here, wants to see me armed.

I crept out of bed and over to the “oh, shit” floodlight switch on the wall. I’d asked for this switch to be installed when the house was built for just this sort of event, so if I was ever feeling threatened I could flood the yard with light without leaving my bedroom. I turned on the lights, praying they’d be enough to frighten this person off my porch, and stood listening.

It was quiet.

I moved to the top of the stairs, and undid the safety clasp on the pepper spray.

Still quiet.

I steeled myself for a confrontation, and walked down the stairs and over to the front door. I looked out the sidelight into the night.

And there was a raccoon, doubled over at the end of the walkway, eating something. And instantly I knew what it was. I’d been using some heavy glass eggs in the chickens’ nesting box to try to induce one of them to go broody. I’d removed them yesterday because a real chicken egg had cracked, coating the glass eggs with raw yolk. I’d stashed these eggs in a planter on the front porch until I could take them in to wash, and of course I forgot about them.

So this raccoon had managed to get a glass egg out of the planter, no doubt creating the crashing sounds I heard on the porch, and was trying to eat it. My glass egg, which by the way, was very pretty and kind of pricey and sold as a decorative objet at fancy boutique store downtown.

I opened the door, and the raccoon started running down the driveway. With my glass egg. Dammed if that little bastard was going to give me the fright of the year and make off with my home decor. I ran after the raccoon, down the driveway in my pajamas and sock feet, making my best frightening noises.

And when the raccoon got to the road, he dropped my glass egg and disappeared into the tall grass. Triumphant, and oh, so relieved, I picked up the raccoon-spit covered egg, returned home, and deposited it with the others in a bowl, inside.

Then I went back to bed, where I couldn’t sleep from the stress hormones still zinging in my bloodstream and the nausea they induced. I lowered the air conditioning in the room by four degrees, and opened a fairly technical book on perennial pruning to try to bore my mind quiet. My cat jumped on the bed and sat watching me, her toes touching my flank, as she conducted some of my fear energy away.

And when my eyes began to close, she jumped off the bed, I turned off the light, and we both went back to sleep.

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Going again

June 8th, 2013 § 0

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Looks like round two of the 2013 bluebird babies have arrived. There were five eggs in here. I can’t tell yet if they’ve all hatched.

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In other news, I am fairly certain I saw all five members of the previous hatch lined up on the fence near their nestbox. I also saw six bluebirds at once in my peach tree, some of them colored like juveniles. Apparently it’s not uncommon for juveniles to hang out near their parents for a while after fledging.

Let’s hope this group is as successful.

What big teeth you have

June 7th, 2013 § 0

Despite how it looks, this story doesn’t have a Disney ending. Stop reading now if topics such as the natural order, predation, working farm dogs, and death are ones you’d rather not read about right now.

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For the last week or so the garden around my house has been plagued by a nocturnal visitor. Every young and vulnerable plant fell victim, including new seedlings of rare, mail-ordered zinnias, the newest shoots of dozens of star gladiolus that were just emerging, small bedding coleus, and young red chard transplants that I’d been watering three times a day to get them to take—basically everything I’d lined up to provide summer interest in my garden. As any gardener knows, there is nothing more disheartening than to spend money and time fussing over young plants just to come out each morning find them eaten to the nub.

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Because of the pattern of damage, I suspected a rabbit. My suspicion grew Wednesday morning when Tucker went nuts in the front garden, trying to climb inside some of the larger shrubs. I knew he was in pursuit of something, but I feared that in his frenzy I’d lose even more plants. So I called him off and kept him inside.

That night, however, he was outside with me and spent hours working something near the corner of the well house. Around sunset I went outside and found the scene above. There was no going back—the rabbit had already sustained significant damage.

I like this photo below because it reminds me of all those classic paintings of working dogs with their quarry: the labs with their ducks, spaniels with grouse and pheasant, hounds with deer and boar and bear, and terriers with ground-dwelling varmints.

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Because I think it is important to reward Tucker for this hunting behavior, which is exactly the kind I want him to exhibit. So I praised him and left him with his kill. And he was oh, so proud. When I went to collect him for bed, at almost 10:00 p.m., he was crunching the last of the bones.

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Yes, the rabbit was adorable and I think they are lovely creatures. I enjoy seeing them in the fields ands try my best to not hit them when they dart in front of my car. But this rabbit picked the wrong salad bar, and I am proud that I have an English Shepherd that is pulling his weight around the farm as a working dog as well as a pampered pet. Like all the happiest dogs, he has a job and it is a joy to see him able to fulfill his nature in such a helpful way.

Early June evening

June 3rd, 2013 § 0

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“Glass Gem” corn

June 2nd, 2013 § 3

This spring I was lucky enough to get my hands on some “Glass Gem” corn seeds. Glass Gem is not a sweet corn. It’s an incredibly beautiful heirloom flint, or popcorn, and it’s quite a phenomenon in the gardening world, spurred on by photos like this that have been circulating online for a couple of years. You can read more about it here.

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Everyone was nuts to get some Glass Gem seeds, but they became available only this year from Native Seeds/SEARCH, a Tucson, Arizona-based nonprofit that works to conserve seed from plants of genetic and cultural importance.

I first discovered Native Seeds when I lived within walking distance of their retail store on Fourth Avenue in Tucson. It was one of my favorite shops in the city, filled with Native crafts and, of course, unusual seeds. One year I bought my dad a bunch of hot chile pepper seeds and sent them home to Virginia, where he planted a giant chile garden. For years my parents had hot peppers languishing in the freezer from that massive experiment.

I was on a waiting list for more than a year until I got an e-mail this spring saying I could purchase one packet of Glass Gem seeds. Which I did, immediately. People are so nuts to get this corn that I’ve seen online auctions and stores selling each seed for a dollar or more, which is crazy because it’s still for sale on the Native Seeds Web site. It’s also nuts because corn is wind-pollinated, which means you need a pretty sizable stand (at least 40 plants) in order for cobs to set, unless you want to hand-pollinate.

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I received 65 kernels in my allotted packet of seeds. I have never grown corn before, so this experiment has required quite a bit of research as well as some garden plan drawings before I could start. And then I had to wait for the soil to warm up…

On May 11, I marked out the placement for each kernel using sophisticated measuring apparatus. Don’t laugh. It worked. I planted seeds one foot from each other in both directions, creating the suggested “block” configuration that helps insure pollination.

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Glass Gem corn, ready to go in the ground. We had some nice rains in May and after about a week the corn germinated. Sixty-three of the sixty-five planted kernels came up, which is a pretty amazing germination rate: 97%!

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I’d like to take a moment now for some soil appreciation. The darker soil, above on the right, is what most of my vegetable garden looks like now, after three years of concerted effort to build soil tilth and fertility through sheet mulching, composting in place, running chickens in the garden, and adding homemade compost at regular intervals. The red clay blob is the native soil, dug from just a foot away at the edge of the garden. Quite a difference, huh?! I know it’s nuts to be proud of your soil, but that photo above represents countless hours of my life spent in research and hard physical labor, so it’s wonderful to see such an obvious improvement.

The corn is now about eight inches tall and this week’s heat wave (highs above 90 degrees) has had a noticeable effect. Corn loves heat, and just as I’ve heard in gardening folklore, you can watch it grow.

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Many other bloggers are growing Glass Gem and writing about it, so it will be interesting to compare experiences. Some gardeners are really coddling their Glass Gem, but coddling isn’t really my gardening style and I am prepared to accept failure with this experiment. It’s a big risk as I devoted a relatively large section of my too-small garden to this corn, but I figured I had to at least give it a shot! We’ll see what happens!

Iris

June 1st, 2013 § 0

In late March I stayed with my friend Todd in Arlington, Va. Todd is a former neighbor, and I first spoke to him as I walked past his rented house on Barton Street toward the Metro. Todd was sitting outside on the front porch, reading the paper. I complimented him on the beautiful irises growing rampant in his front yard, which is how I earned his nickname of “Iris” before he knew my real name.

A while later Todd and I got to know each other more and became friends. He’s even made the trek down to visit me at Bonafide Farm. I very much appreciate his humor and intellectual curiosity as well as his willingness to pitch in with nonglamorous labor such as driving me to the airport and and helping me move. Which involved Todd carrying about a hundred heavy book boxes, one on each shoulder, two at a time out of my third-floor apartment—a sight and a kindness I won’t forget!

Well, this latest visit was no exception, as we dug an entire bed of irises and daffodils out of his back yard. These are old beds that were planted sometime before Todd moved into the property by someone who obviously loved gardening. It was hard to tell how old the beds were, but the irises had completely filled them with exposed rhizomes growing up and over the brick edges. Definitely good candidates for division!

Though Todd has been living in Barton Manor for many, many years, one day he will have to move out and the property will succumb to the new development that’s overtaking the Clarendon area. Todd wants to make sure every last useful piece of the house and yard, living and not, is salvaged before the demolition begins. Which is how I came home with this:

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Those contractors’ bags were full of soil and plants. They were so heavy I had to call in reinforcements just to get them out of the truck. Thank goodness for the tractor!

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It took me an entire day to get these irises and daffodils planted in the beds around the house, below. By the end I was running out of spaces to put them, so I stuck a few clumps of daffodils around the giant oak tree at the wood line.

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To my surprise the daffodils, which were in bud when we dug them, went ahead and bloomed as though their relocation had never happened. I was very thrilled to see that some of them are a fascinating type that bloom with a yellow corona (the center cup part) that then fades to a peachy pink as the blossom ages. Very cool!

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I totally didn’t expect it, given the late transplanting, but several of the irises also bloomed as though nothing had happened. I guess they like their new home.

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I am very grateful to Todd for his gift and glad to see a bit of Barton Manor live on at Bonafide Farm. Seeing these plants remind me not only of my years spent living in the city but also of my good friend.

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