Homestead Events for July

Blackberries

So, the first few weeks of July, the wild blackberries all over our property ripened. For about 2 weeks, almost every other evening in the last hour before sunset I venture out with a gallon jug with the top cut off (homemade basket, handle left on!) to gather my wild-foraged booty. I lived on blackberries for about 2 weeks. I took extra gallons to a few friends in town. I even fed a bunch to my dogs, especially Thor, who really needed the vitamins to help him recover from the snakebite he suffered in June. In fact, the dogs quickly learned the signs that I was going picking, and got very excited when I’d get ready to go, because they enjoyed the berries I bought back so much. By the way, always wear long pants when you go berry picking in the wild, no matter how hot it is. The wild bushes are very thorny and you have to walk through of the hedges to get a good quantity of berries. And if you are going picking in the Ozarks, take a very sharp hoe, or other gardening implement, with you in case you encounter snakes. You are going into the thick brush, which they like. I never saw any, but I know they are there after Thor got bit.

Next year I plan on doing a lot more of preserving, making blackberry jam and blackberry wine. We actually already had a canner, but I want to have an outdoor kitchen to do my preserving in. I really, really didn’t want to heat up my house any more in the summer by doing it inside. Its hot enough already. Plus we are low on mason jars. Most of our mason jars right now are storing dry beans and rice food storage, they are already working. We will probably buy a bunch more in November and December when they go on sale in some places because “canning season” is over. So we didn’t try any berry preserving this year.

Heat Dome

We caved and bought an air conditioner on the 20th. Had to break into the new vehicle fund, but I don’t regret it. We had a couple of days above 100 degrees, with a heat index of about 120! This is dangerous levels of heat. This is the type of heat wave that hundreds of people can die in. I’m not super-unhealthy, but I’m overweight and out of shape. And even if I wasn’t, it’s still goddamned uncomfortable. Not to mention the dogs can’t compensate for the heat like we humans can. If this heat is dangerous for humans, hows bad must it be for dogs? Especially poor Loki, with her double coat? She’s almost seven years old, too. The dogs are both shedding, but not fast enough it seems. And I can say that since we installed the air conditioner, Alex and I have been fighting a lot less. It looks like the heat was making us both very moody and giving us a short fuse.

Garden Update

The cucumbers have gone crazy! We didn’t get a cattle panel for them to vine up in time. Opps. We’ll have to do that next year. I really didn’t realize how quickly they would grow, but soon it was too far gone for us to add something for them to trellis up. The cucumbers have grown so much that they went up and over the raised bed and all around the land around it. I just it go and continued to water them when it wasn’t raining. We are getting about 10 cucumbers a week or so. It rained yesterday too on the 24th, and the day afterwards there were already a bunch of new small, yellow flowers.

We also have two okra plants. They are not super-productive, because they are growing in pots, but we are getting about 6 okras a week. Be have been chopping the up and putting into the slow-cooker into whatever we are cooking. I love okra. We couldn’t grow it in northern Indiana because the seasons were too short and its a slow-growing plant.

We have one tomato plant that made it. We had 2 transplants that we bought from a local store called Town and Country. But the smaller of the plants died in the excessive heat we’ve been having. It’s a Pink Lady, which I had never had before. It doesn’t turn fully red, it’s ripe when it turns a nice, bright pink color. It was really, really good.

I planted a few herbs, but the only one that made it was lemon balm. That one has gone freaking nuts, it’s practicably a huge bush now. It’s in the mint family, so it’s probably perennial now. In case you didn’t know, mint is notoriously hard to get rid of. I’m going to cut a bunch back this fall and dry it, between paper towels or paper bags, and make tea from it. If you’ve never had lemon balm, it’s incredibly favorable. Sometimes when I’m working outside, I just grab a few leaves and chew them fresh. Which makes your breath smell good too.

We also had a very pleasant surprise. A butternut squash plant, which we had completely forgotten that my brother had even planted, has gotten huge. It has about 10 butternuts it, not ready to pick yet, but coming along nicely. It still has some flowers and is continuing to grow, so we may get a lot. One of the best things about that is the butternuts can keep for a months, so there is no hurry to eat or do anything with them right away. Although I can’t wait to eat the first one. The thing to consider is that we have not tended this plant at all. We never purposefully watered it, its been getting by on the rain. We had completely forgotten about it. Now it was planted in an area where we had heavily worked the soil and dumped several inches of woodchip compost from the compost facility in town, and then heavily mulched on top of that with straw. So the soil was great and the straw mulch held onto moisture for a long time during the long dry days. So, we now know that squashes do really, really well here. That’s something else that I tried growing in Indiana that did terribly. I’m happy that they do well here, and next year I hope to have more land cleared out so I can plant a lot more of varieties of squash. I heard from people in town that melons do very well out here, too.

Next month we are going to build a couple more raised beds. The growing season here is long enough that we can still plant early carrots (they grow pretty fast), which we’ll inter-plant with garlic, since garlic drives away carrot flies and carrots drives away garlic pests. That’s called companion planting. We’ll also have a bed of spinach and winter greens, but that one I’m guessing we’ll have to put chicken wire over to keep the damn rabbits away from them.

Clearing and Composting

We are still slowly but steadily working our way through the things that we can work through with the tools that we have. It would be nice to have better tools and more things, but we don’t, so we make whatever progress we can.

We have a pallet which is has logs on it to dry. The reason the logs are sitting on a pallet is so that when it rains, the water will run off of them, instead of the logs sitting on the ground in water and rotting. There are still some trees laying around that we are working on de-limbing and chopping up. We only do it early in the morning or in the last hour before sunset. It’s too hot otherwise. And this last week was too hot even then. But today (the 25th) I went out for half an hour before sunset and did more chopping at one of the big cedars on its side at the edge of our clearing. I got 4 good-sized logs out of it and onto the pallet. I’ve lost some weight living out here, but I’m still out of shape. I can’t do a lot of physical labor at one time. But I’m getting better. My stamina is increasing. My goal is to do a little bit every day, weather permitting. And if I can stick to that, then stuff will eventually get done, little by little. I hope this heat dome crap is over. The weather radio says the highs are going to be in the mid-80s this week, and there is good chance of rain most of this week too. Which is fantastic news. If the heat dome is over I might be able to actually get SOMETHING done, no matter how small. During the heat dome, the heat was so oppressive, I could barely breathe. It was like having a huge, warm blanket wrapped around you. Not pleasant.

I also chopped down some of the greenery we didn’t want that got out of control again. Sure, it went straight into the compost bins, of which we have two, but I can’t wait till next spring and we can hopefully get goats to control that.

POSTSCRIPT: this is added on the 29th of July. The weather has been somewhat more reasonable, still hot but not nearly so insanely. In the first few hours or the last hours of the day I’ve been able to do a little more de-limbing of the felled cedar trees and chopping the trunks in into small logs that we will be able to either use ourselves or trade with our neighbors. It has been raining off and on, too, and the cucumber leaves have perked up quite a bit. They looked a bit wilty in the hottest part of the day before. The squash has a lot of fresh, beautiful flowers, too. Every time I check on it, it has creeped a little further along.

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