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Sweet Summer Farm

Our Wild Loofahs

Sweet Summer FarmEarly in the spring of last year, we decided to once again try to grow loofahs. We have tried to grow them in the past, but the season was just not long enough. This time we planted the seeds in four-inch peat pots and started them under grow lights.They are easy to start from seed, and we soon had a flat full of lush loofahs. Trying not to get too excited — after all, we had been at this point before — we installed four cow panels into an arch. The baby loofahs were nestled in close to the arch as soon as the weather was warm enough and all danger of frost had passed. Well the days passed, warm wonderful days filled with sunshine. Warm rain fell on them, birds sang, and bees buzzed. The loofahs sat and sat and sat and not one new leaf. Nothing. Were we to be disappointed once again?

All of a sudden, the plants seemed to take off! We don't know if they overheard us discussing pulling them up and planting pole beans, or if that is just the common loofah behavior. Either way, they took off like crazy. If you watched, you could almost see them growing. They were vining skyward at an unbelievable rate.

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Covering the arch

Soon the loofahs reached the top of the arch, but still they climbed up and over, went past the arch, and were grabbing the tomato cages. We tried looping them back over the arch. But loofahs are bold and wild; there is no telling them where to grow. They were the rebellious teenagers of the garden, not paying our ideas about what was best for them any attention. Like having teenagers, you just have to deal with them.

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Wild tomato grabbing

Soon they were covered with bright yellow blooms and lots of bees. The bees loved the loofah blooms!

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Lots of yellow loofah blooms

Then we noticed tiny loofahs that grew and grew; soon we had some very large loofahs. We were thrilled! We were able to get a large number of these wonderful gourds.

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Lots of loofahs

Hanging Loofas
More loofahs

We picked some green — they make a softer sponge. Most we picked after they had started to change color from green to a darker brown. Some we dried and will use in the shower. Others were cut into smaller pieces for dish washing. We also made gardeners soap out of some of them. They have really come in handy. We look forward to growing more of them next year.

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Dried loofahs

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Loofah sponges peeled, seeds removed, and washed

Grand's Awesome Tacos

Sweet Summer FarmThis past summer, we had a harvest of beautiful peppers. They are very easy to grow and don't take a lot of care. We put them in the ground, and they took off growing. Peppers like a rich soil with lots of organic matter. They looked great growing in the garden. Pepper plants also make a nice addition to your flower beds. They blend nicely with brightly colored flowers. We did have to keep them watered late in the summer, because the rain stopped for a while. We only added fertilizer one time in the spring.

Most peppers start to produce in about seventy days — some a few days more, some less. Once they get started making peppers, they produce tons. We planted four kinds of peppers: Corno Di Torro Rosso, Marconi Red, Small Purple Bell Peppers, and a Yellow Bell Pepper. We loved the bright colors of all of these wonderful peppers. We enjoyed them all summer long and into the fall. Grand also put jar after jar into the freezer. Some she chopped into small bits, some she sliced into strips, and others she put up as whole peppers. There are many things you can make with peppers, such as casseroles, soups and stews, pepper steak, and even stuffed peppers. But the recipe we are going to focus on today is tacos!

Grand's Awesome Tacos

Ingredients:

• A pound of ground beef
• A cup of chopped onion
• A cup of chopped bell peppers
• 1 14-ounce cans of tomato
• 3 cans of different kinds of beans, your choice (garbanzo beans, black beans, great northern beans — whatever kind of beans you like)
• About a cup of canned or frozen corn
• 2 teaspoon of garlic powder
• 2 teaspoon of cumin
• 2 teaspoon of chili powder
• salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef, then add onion and bell peppers. Cook till soft.

2. Stir in tomatoes, beans, and corn. Add garlic, cumin, chili powder, and salt and pepper.

3. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. The longer you let it simmer, the better the flavors will blend.

We have used this recipe for tacos, enchiladas, nachos, and even topping for taco salad!

Hints from Grand:

If you like, you may use an envelope of taco mix. We like to use dried beans in this recipe. Grand cooks up a package of beans and then freezes them in jars. If you want more meat, use two pounds and cut back on beans. Taste this as you cook, as some canned beans have more salt than others. We don't like hot foods, but you can spice this up with jalapeno peppers or hot sauce. There are no rules here, add whatever you like! Green onions? Some leftover rice? Or maybe throw in some summer squash?

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Our delicious taco delight

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A close up of our peppers

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Beautiful, colorful peppers

Epic Low Tunnel Failure

Sweet Summer FarmWe have had a major fail on the farm.

This fall we decided to invest in a low tunnel hoop bender and then used the bender to bend electrical conduit into low tunnel hoops. We also ordered one frost cover. When we started forming the low tunnels using our new bender, we were thrilled. The bender worked great, and we planned on ordering different sizes.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

We mounted the bender to an old, wooden, shipping crate that we found in a shed. Making the hoops went really fast, and they turned out perfect. We were hoping to use the hoops with the frost cover to extend the growing season at the farm. We used ten-foot electrical conduit to make hoops that were about four feet tall, and we used those to cover our Brussel sprouts. We used five-foot conduit to make a tunnel about two and a half feet tall; this size we used over our broccoli plants. The tunnels worked well, and the plants did great under them. We wired our hoops to fence posts we had driven into the ground, and we will try wooden boards next time.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

Then, we covered the hoops with our frost cover and lined the sides with our many rocks to hold the frost cover in place. It all looked so good, and we were very happy with our work. Then Mother Nature showed up with rain and high winds. The next morning, we found out that one of our frost covers had blown over. Well, blown might be an understatement. The cover over the Brussel sprouts had been knocked completely over, hoops and all, only the rocks had kept the frost cover from being carried into the next county.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

Our farm is in a valley between the mountains, and the valley acts like a wind tunnel. The four-foot tall cover that blew over was facing sideways, with the long side taking the wind full force. We decided to take down this cover so that it didn't blow over again. The frost cover that didn't blow over was facing into the wind and was only about two feet tall. We didn't stick the hoops too far in the ground because we knew we would take them up, but we thought we had them deep enough to resist the wind. We were obviously wrong.

We will keep you updated on how the uncovered Brussel sprouts do in the cold. We are going to use our hoops to grow earlier in the spring. We are going to work with Mother Nature and line up our tunnels differently next time. We have learned a lot.

Collapsed garden tunnel 

If you use low tunnels, please let us know how you anchor them to the ground. We ordered our bender from a company called Build My Own Greenhouse. We were very happy with this company and will continue to order from them. They also sell greenhouse supplies. We hope we will soon be able to build a greenhouse.

Collapsed garden tunnel

Collapsed garden tunnel 

Grand's Apple Pie

Sweet Summer FarmGrand's apple pie is awesome. It's great in any season, but really good in the fall made with fresh local apples. Grand has been making this pie for over forty years, and it's definitely a family favorite.

Apple Pie

Ingredients

• 4 to 6 cups of sliced apples
• 1 cup of sugar
• 3 tablespoons of cornstarch
• 3 tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate
• 1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
• 2 piecrusts

Instructions

1. Mix together the sugar and the cornstarch. Set aside.

2. Mix your frozen orange juice concentrate with your nutmeg.

3. Gently stir orange juice concentrate and nutmeg mixture with the apples.

4. Sprinkle the sugar and cornstarch mixture on top of your apple mixture and stir.

5. Place your bottom pie crust in your pie plate and pour filling into your pie plate, then place your top pie crust over your filling.

6. Crimp your pie crust however you like, and cut several small slits in the top.

7. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes

Hints from Grand: Check out our pie crust recipe — Grand's Best Pie Crust Ever. Grand's favorite way to seal the two pie crusts together is to just use a fork. You take your fork and press the crusts together all the way around the pie. Grand also likes to brush the top of the pie with a beaten egg white and sprinkle it with sugar; it makes for a very pretty pie.

Sweet Summer Farm Grows Peanuts

Sweet Summer FarmEarly in the spring, we planted a small patch of peanuts. Peanuts are a big crop in GA; as many of you might know, former president Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer. They grow really well in South GA, so we thought we would see how they did in the North GA mountains. Honestly, we did not have a lot of hope for them, but we were surprised. When we dug up our plants, we were delighted to find quite a few peanuts. There are not enough to keep us in peanut butter for the next year, but hey, we are going to enjoy having a nice big pot of boiled peanuts!

Peanuts need a long growing season. We started ours inside under grow lights. They came up and grew great, but when we transplanted them into the garden they wilted badly. Thankfully, they soon recovered and grew at a steady pace. Peanuts like sandy, loose, and well-drained soil to grow, but you can still grow them in clay soil. Which was perfect for us, because we don't have anything near sandy soil.

We eventually saw small yellow blooms, and that means they've started making peanuts. After a long wait, they were finally ready. There is no sure sign to tell when they're ready that we know of. Just look on your seed package and it will tell you the number of days till mature. Otherwise, you will just have to dig one of them up and see if your peanuts are ready to eat.

Peanuts go through a process called pegging, which means that they have runners underground that also produce peanuts. The plants don't just produce peanuts at the crown of the plant. It all depends on the variety and in what conditions they are grown in, but they should produce about 25 to 50 peanut pods. We planted our peanuts in a small square "peanut patch," which was actually too small for them. We still got a good harvest, though. Next year, instead of a small patch, we plan on making a long, rectangular, three-foot-wide row. We are thinking about plowing some sand and compost into the row before we plant.

Peanuts plants grow to be 12 to 18 inches tall and up to three feet long. So you should space your rows about 36 inches apart. If you don't want to start the seeds inside and then transplant them, then you plant the seeds directly into the ground. If you do so, you need to make sure that it has been three weeks after the last frost and that the temperature of the soil is above 60 degrees. You should plant your seeds just shy of 2 inches deep, and 4 to 6 inches apart.

It is really fun to grow peanuts; we enjoyed them this year! If you have not tried growing peanuts, give them a try. It might turn out better than you had hoped.

Peanuts

Peanuts on the vine 

Growing Mushrooms

Sweet Summer FarmOn one of our trips to the Mother Earth News Fair, Grand bought some shiitake mushroom plugs. Grand took them home and placed them in the fridge, and unfortunately there they stayed for months. But, finally, we decided it was time to see if we have what it takes to be mushroom farmers. (Well, OK, maybe not farmers exactly, but at least see if we could grow some mushrooms.)

We talked to our friend Ron Cabe, a super mushroom farmer. We buy almost all our mushrooms from him at the farmer's market. Being the great person that he is, he agreed to help us do our mushroom plugs. You can read all about the preparing of our mushroom logs in our Learning To Grow Our Own Mushrooms post.

After we finished our logs, they got to relax in a nice shady spot in the woods. When about eight months had passed, our friend Ron "Mushroom Man" Cabe said they were ready to soak — because to actually get the mushrooms to grow, they need to soak in some kind of water. So we headed down to the farm, and the logs got plopped down into a nice deep spot in the creek. The logs soaked for a couple of days. We put them in on Saturday afternoon and left them in the creek until Monday afternoon. Then we took them back home to their shady spot in the woods. Well, in a week we found some mushrooms! To celebrate, we had cheese and mushroom omelets with our new mushrooms and fresh eggs from the farm.

We love mushrooms, so we've been thinking about growing some different types. We're always using mushrooms: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you have ever grown any kind of mushrooms, please let us know what kind and how you grew them. We would love to hear from you!

Shiitake mushrooms
Photo by Fotolia/twomeercats

Happy First Birthday, Sweet Summer Farm!

Sweet Summer FarmHello from Sweet Summer Farm,

This month we turn one year old. A year ago this August, we closed on our farm. We had looked for several years at farm after farm, never finding just the right one. If we liked the land, then there was no water; if there was a great creek or pond, the land was too steep to farm. We spent almost every weekend driving around over three different states; most of the time, a drive-by was all that was needed to eliminate each farm. A farm would sound wonderful on paper, but the seller had forgotten to say there was a convenience store next door that was open twenty-four hours. Let's not forget the farm with a "beautiful creek" that was really only about the size of your arm. And of course, the one that was on a five-lane highway was not what we had in mind. The creek was often the property line, so you are sharing the creek with your neighbor, and we once looked at a farm with a barbed wire fence down the middle of the creek so that the neighbor's cows could drink out of it. Maybe a plan for them, but not so good for us.

Then we got the call about this farm. Our agent, Dale Holmes, said we had to come look at it. It was beautiful. We loved it! Could this be the one? The creek ran right through the middle of the farm; there were pasture and woods. The house was in fair shape, and there was a barn and an old corn crib. After much talking and worrying, we decided this was the one: our Sweet Summer Farm.

We have had a lot of changes over this first year. The first thing we needed to do was put in a driveway. We cut down lots of overgrown boxwoods and tons of weed trees — the property had not been well cared for over the years. We plowed and planted a large garden after stopping every few minutes to dig out rocks. We have put in a small orchard; the deer have really enjoyed it, they think it is a salad bar. We have planted blueberries and raspberries, some fig trees, and three pecan trees.

In addition to all of our plants and trees, we have poultry. First, we have our beautiful Silver Lace Wyandottes. The first update on them is that, sadly, one of our hens has passed away. The second update is sad, too: our rooster had to go. Buster was a beautiful rooster, but his behavior was unacceptable. When he went after Grand and left her bleeding, he had to go. So he was given away. Next, we have our littles, aka our bantam chickens. The biggest and most wonderful update of all is our bantams have STARTED LAYING! Our bantams now have layed roughly two dozen eggs. Grand is going to make mini deviled eggs. All of us are very excited to start using tiny eggs.

The last type of animal we have is our wild and crazy ducks. The wonderful update here is that our ducks have started laying beautiful blue eggs. It's really cool to have brown eggs, blue eggs, and tiny eggs.

We are really enjoying our beautiful little farm. There have been a lot of changes in the past year. It has been a lot of work, but mostly it has been great fun and a wonderful experience. We are looking forward to many years in this very special place. We feel very blessed.

Our beautiful old farm houuse
We love this old farmhouse!

Pasture to Garden in just one year
Our large garden!

Our chickens are neighbors
Our chickens are next door neighbors.

Our wild and crazy ducks
Our crazy ducks.

Our sign is finally up
Our sign is finally up and looking good.

Our old barn
Our old barn Love it!

Our favorite place to be after a long day of work, the creek!!!
Our favorite spot! Down at the creek after a hard day. We are so lucky!