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Living Just One Cornfield Away From Civilization

First Day Out

The seedlings are experiencing their first day out today. They were sown at the end of January and germinated in just a few days. Alas, as so often happens indoors, the seedlings got rather tall and leggy which is not good. The weather outside was still cold so they needed protection from an icy wind even though there was some sunshine. Yes, a greenhouse would be wonderful but that is not going to help when we are in a temporary apartment, so I looked around for something to help them. As it happened someone had just emptied a box of water bottles - they are shrunk wrapped in plastic and have a cardboard base. Not a perfect greenhouse but there was enough clear plastic for the seedlings to get some much needed sunshine without the wind.

The seedlings were still leggy but some new seeds were also germinating and these were sturdier. Enter nail scissors to prune out all the leggy lettuce and kale seedlings so that the little guys could get some light. The clippings made a great topping for a sandwich too!

So today it is cloudy and breezy with damp drizzle and the little guys are on their first few hours of unprotected weather. I am not sure how long I will let them stay out there, but there is some benefit to seedlings getting a little bit of wind to make them a little sturdier. 

 Seedlings on their first day out 

What is a Farm? What is a Farmer?

A photo of KateOver the past few weeks I have come across several people talking about farming in a variety of different ways and some assumptions as to what a 'real' farmer really is.

The Superbowl commercial for Dodge trucks was terrific and highlighted some great farm scenes, but with the exception of a road side fruit and vegetable stand, these were large farms with acres of corn or livestock. There is no doubt that these are farmers.

Several weeks ago, my guest on my radio show (America's Home Grown Veggie Show) was Dr Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist from Texas A&M. When he graduated he too thought of farming in that same vein and could quote how many dollars per acres you could get from an acre of cotton, wheat etc. Then he worked on a grant that looked at small multi-crop businesses, many on less than 5 acres - could these families really make a living - estimated as $25K net - with that model of farming. Apparently no one had looked into the issue because perhaps they were not 'real farmers'. Turns out that these people do indeed produce food for the family, CSAs, farm market stands and local restaurants and they put many hours of hard labor into the work. This was far more than a hobby as Luis had assumed, and therefore should be classed as a farmer.

Another guest last week, had a different take on the issue. Peter Bane wrote the Permaculture Handbook and introduced me to a new term the Farmer-Gardener which perhaps takes in a broader group of growers and perhaps could be looked at as a sliding scale from hobby gardener with just a few tomato plants, to the full scale market gardener/farmer.

Finally I just finished reading City Farm by Novella Carpenter. Novella chronicles her life building a farm in a run down corner in the city of Oakland, CA. area. Starting with a field of weeds on an abandoned lot next door, Novella clears the lot, adds vegetables, fruit trees, bees, chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and finally pigs. Her plan is to become self sufficient and to do that she feels the need to personally, and humanely, slaughter the animals as needed for food. Without doing this part it seems that she didn't feel as though the world would look at the farm as a 'real farm' or look at her as a 'real farmer'. 

So are all these people farming and farmers or are they a different category?  Homesteaders are a popular term used but I really wonder if some people are stuck with the idea that 'real farmers' are those depicted in the Superbowl commercial - and the rest of us are ..what...... not real farmers, or just playing at growing food, or...... 

Clearly it depends on who you ask. 

No White Christmas In NW Ohio the Year

A photo of KateWhere, oh where is the snow this year? That is what everyone is asking. Even last winter, which was mild and almost snow free, we did pick up a little bit of the white stuff but this year you can count the flakes on one hand – technically called a trace. The forecast is maybe of the end of this week we might get some rain turning to snow, but the chance of snow is dwindling each day.  

The good news is that on December 18th, it was cool but mild enough and dry enough to put towels and bed sheets onto the line to dry!! This is indeed a rarity in December and laundry always smells that little bit better when the temperatures are down below 60 degrees. 

While I was hanging the laundry I noticed some strange grass was growing in the strawberry patch so I wandered over to see. Not grass but little onions or maybe garlic is growing!! That is not the only area that is green and vibrant – the herb patch is holding its own too. Mint, thyme and sage are just some of the herbs that I can still harvest fresh for meals.  

So as we head toward the Christmas week, the only chance of snow seems Thursday and the chance of that remaining for a white Christmas is indeed slim. 

The Last of the Giants Cut Down by Frost

The first real frost hit last week followed by a few days in the balmy 60s at the weekend. This was perfect timing for killing most of the tender growth – it should have killed it all, but a few stragglers still manage to be alive – and the mild weekend weather was comfortable for the final garden cleanup. 

Long Grafted Tomato Root 

I started with the veggie beds where the last tomato plant was finally dead – or at least the top part was dead, the lower stem was still green but it was composted anyway. The bushiness and general vigor of the plant could be attributed to the root of the plant (picture above) which was about four feet long and I am not even sure if I got the whole root even then! The beast was a graft which I am told is onto a wild tomato plant with the top being the Japanese Black Trifele, a beautiful dark heirloom tomato and one which I will try again next year. 

The perennial bed was also in dire need of attention – mainly the cosmos which was now dead but which was covering everything in the vicinity. The seeds were a group of leftover, forgotten seeds that I strew about in early June. They didn’t get pampered or watered but germinated anyway and grew, and grew and grew. Finally they did put out pretty pink flowers which continued until the frost finally cut the plant down. When I clipped it back, the lower stems were at least an inch in diameter and the whole stem was close to 6 or even 7 feet in length – I can’t really say height as many stems were knocked over by the gusty winds we had over the late summer. They also draped over the chair, covered two small rose bushes and almost killed a Kerria japonica.  

 Cosmos 

The other giant was not really a surprise and had been felled by winds in late September. This was the giant anise hyssop so it was suppose to be tall but even so I was surprised to see it get to well over 6 feet! I have it in a place where a wild rose had been. The rose was straggly and poked behind the downspout for support and was composted the first summer. 

So the garden looks slightly less colorful and definitely flatter without these tall plants, but I will grow them all again next year! 

House hunting

The past month has been busy with two trips to New Jersey to find a home and one house in Ohio to get onto the market. The selling part is just a matter of getting rid of clutter and cleaning, then keeping it almost ready for someone to see most of the time - living in a house that is perfect for showing at a minutes notice is not practicle so I don't even try to do that!

Buying was a little easier but tedious anyway even thought the internet makes life a lot simpler there are still some things that didn't quite work - 2 acres in the middle of a city doesn't count as rural, neither does having a lovely rural road leading to a potential house only to find out that the regional dirt bike/speedway track was right next door and active at least when we were there!!

After those two 'thank you but no' I took to looking at the potential listings on Realtor.com to see a little more closely what was around. The site has got alot more on it in the last decade and you can not only choose to have 2 acreas minimum (or 5 or 10) but you have a tab to include farms and ranches which helped to include some more rural options. We also found out that taxes are reduced if you are a farm, which is catagorized by keeping chickens! I wonder how many poor chickens are adopted by people wanting to reduce the tax bill but have no idea how to keep chickens. That said, I am tempted to try my hand at keeping some so that we can have fresh eggs as wel as fresh vegetables.

I was also heartened to see some of the fields being labelled as 'Preserved Farmland'. WIth the number of cornfields being turned into dense housing, this is at least one way to maintain some local farming in the community. This was something else I looked for when we had fine tuned the options - with urban creep just a few miles away and new toll road accesses being built, I didn't want to buy somewhere quiet only to find that a new develppment springing up across the road, and on both sides of me!

So this is the week we hope to get a contract sorted and then I will have a timeline for moving - hopefully in time to put some bulbs into the ground, even if I have missed the boat as far a fall veggies.

Early Fall Cleanup

The first frost, in this case a near-frost, is the ending point of the summer garden, and for me it arrived last week but as the weather was miserable and damp, I didn’t get out there until this week to start the grand clear up. So I started, and ended, with the veggie patch. 

The main issue was the tomato patch where most of the vines had died. There were an abundance of little cherry tomatoes that had fallen from the vines but hadn’t been noticed over the past months and those were cleared up too. What did surprise me rather was that even though we had a light dusting of frost over the grass away from the house, the grafted tomatoes were still quite healthy. I have put this down to them being so robust and bushy that maybe the inner leaves were protected by the outer foliage. That however does not account for the fact that they are also putting out flowers even though the day length is short, and there are a few of those ripening. There are also some great calendulas that not only survived the 33 degrees but are still happily flowering in the mild October sunshine. There are even a few bugs that are attracted to the flowers but there really is nothing left in the garden that needs pollinating. 

  Sunny clandulas in thye veggie bed 

Of course the winter vegetables are still there of course and they give some color. I have some parsnips that are still going and some chard that I seeded back in August before we knew we were moving. I had all the good intentions of putting in kale, Brussels sprouts, lettuce etc. but they all withered during one of the extended house hunting trips to New Jersey. The weather has turned mild again giving lots of extra time for the garden, but until the first killing frost hits, I am happy to let the remaining perennials stay right where they are.

The Tomatoes Finally Arrive!

 heirloom tomatoes  

Summer is a time for tomatoes but this summer, and last summer as well come to think of it, the tomatoes were rather thrown by the weather. This year everything started out running a few weeks early and the mild weather was maintained through the end of May which was great for getting tomatoes into the ground. The plants grew well until late June/early July when the temperatures soared into the 90s and those triple digits are not conducive to putting out flowers and getting them pollinated by bugs – at 95 and above not even bees want to be out working! The result was that the tomatoes kept growing some, but didn’t develop flowers and start growing fruit until the end of July which is weeks later than most years. The little cherry tomatoes were fine, they have been ripening quickly and maybe were set before the hot weather hit, or maybe they can deal with heat better than the main crop.  

 Fuzzy Peach and Japanese Black Trifele 

 Then about two weeks ago the onslaught of tomatoes arrived! I have basins filled with tomatoes and have dropped off bags to the only two neighbors we have – they were out so I could sneak the tomatoes onto the back door step!! Here are two of my favorites this year. The little yellow one is a fuzzy peach tomato and it really does have fuzz on the skin! The big guy is the fruit from the Japanese Black Trifele. This is the first time I have grown these and they were a grafted tomato from Territorial Seed Company.  

Now I hear you saying – why not preserve them? In a normal year I would boil/simmer the tomatoes until they were thick, then strain, add some fresh herbs and freeze in ice cubes, or even make a spaghetti-type sauce to freeze, but we are moving soon and I need to run down the freezer not load it up with goodies, hence giving them away. I am thinking that maybe there is a food bank somewhere but I am not sure where the nearest one is and I have way too much cleaning to do so don’t have time to run into the city to find one. 

Over the next few weeks we will be trying to find somewhere rural, quiet and not built up, but within half an hour of the new work location – in New Jersey. Yes the garden state, but is there still some rural garden space there???? I will find out this coming weekend.