OMG! The baby barn swallows are off and flying around! I have continued to check on their status in the last couple of days and at times had found only three chicks in the nest so I knew one of them was trying his wings. I just ventured out to peek at them again and found there was only one chick in the nest! He looks so lonely!

IMG_0668I went inside to get my camera and walked around to the far door so as not to scare them off and the nest was EMPTY! It was similar to the feeling I had when my children left for college. I knew they were capable of taking flight and experiencing the world on their own, but oh, my babies were suddenly gone! Wouldn’t you know, this is what they left behind! Kids! Le Sigh…

IMG_4416In other news…we keep trying to improve on the blueberry patch. We had our nets draped over tall wooden stakes in order to keep the net off the fruit. If you let the net touch the fruit, when you pull it away, you pull off fruit as well as leaves which isn’t good.

We had the sides of the net secured with large rocks every few feet to keep the net in place around the bottom. Well, this wasn’t working as well as we thought since we would often go out and see the east side of the net flapping in the wind (it typically blows west to east so this was expected) and therefore open to invasion. Drag. The rocks were also not ideal since we had to move them each time we mowed around the beds. So we came up with this idea to hold the nets in place and yet allow us to be able to lift them with ease to mow or have access. I had some extra cup hangers in the closet and decided to employ them in the wooden stakes as follows: We used a small awl and hammer to start a hole at the bottom of the stake.

IMG_4475Then we screwed in a cup holder and left it in an upside down position and attached the net.

IMG_4478We hope this works. I think we have been beating the birds on the blueberry front. We have picked over eight pounds with many more to go!

IMG_4446We are greedily freezing them to eat all winter long. I think Joan Moore coined the phrase perfectly…I have ‘Little Red Hen’ syndrome! I’m sure you all remember the children’s story of Little Red Hen. If not, you can find it here: http://www.storybus.org/stories_and_activities/the_little_red_hen/story. There is just so much work that goes into our crops that we are really going to focus on feeding ourselves with the product before thinking about selling it.

I know I’ve said it before, but there is always something to do on the farm even tho it is too wet from the rain to do what is needed. Yesterday, in addition to all the blueberry picking and net adjustments, I weeded the front, south landscape bed and added more Preen before mulching. This afternoon Dave worked on making and installing his cucumber trellises. We were big fans of the sweet pickles we made from our cucumbers and zucchinis last year but we ran out of them months ago and Dave has been missing them on his lunch time sandwiches. We hope to have a bumper crop this year for even more pickle making. Here is what he worked on this afternoon.

IMG_4482Dave also asked me to thin the okra! I was more than happy to help since I would not want more okra than our dear Joyce can eat. She grew up in Oklahoma (or as we like to say, Okrahoma!) and loves fried Okra but we basically grow it for her plus the added benefit of some afternoon shade that its tall stalks provide for other plants. You see twin plants here but I thinned them to one every 12 inches. Still….lots of Okra!

IMG_4483We picked lovely peppers and yellow squash which we will have for dinner tonight as well as lettuce, onions and radishes for our salad.

IMG_4486 IMG_4488The eggplants are looking very healthy as well so we will have get ready for that battle in the future months. We have nearly wiped out that which we froze last year so I guess that means we won the war???

IMG_4489The only negative thing to add to the day was that the Japanese Beetles are back! Arg! We felt they were fewer in number last year due to the heat and the drought so not sure what to expect this year but they look to be attacking their favorite areas: the orchard, roses and grape leaves. We have found them just about everywhere and hope to employ our favorite technique of brushing them into a container of soapy water.

Here is what we are currently reading! Dave got a 2 year subscription for his birthday…thanks Lisa and Lee!


Oh dear….battles with the deer!

Our battles with the deer have been on going since our arrival at Seven Oaks but we are not alone. The white tailed deer population in North America has been explosive in the last century. The University of Missouri Extension Services says that in 1925, the estimated deer population in Missouri was 400 strong and in 2012, it was estimated at 1.4 million. If only we had seen that one coming and invested in that stock earlier! Based on the vehicular accidents that involve deer, they rank as the most dangerous animal in Missouri. Statistics from 2011 show that there is one vehicular accident involving a deer every 2.5 hours and one death attributed to one of these accidents every 23.1 hours!

The deer population in St. Louis county is growing at a stiff rate since they have been able to adopt new eating and ranging habits and therefore have naturalized quite quickly in the suburbs where there are little or no hunting practices. Besides their destructive foraging habits, deer are responsible for various diseases and scourges. We consider ourselves lucky to live in the small village of Huntleigh, Missouri where there are very few restrictions at all and none regarding the hunting of deer. We are allowed to bow hunt on our property in season, according to the MO department of conservation, and as soon as our orchard is mature, we should qualify for year round bow hunting. Our friendly bow hunter (a carpenter friend of mine) has taken out 8 deer over the last two seasons which helps, but is not enough if the statistic are correct that there are 80 deer per sq.mi. in the area.

Although we join the ranks of our fellow complaining gardeners since the deer nibble down our roses, hostas, hydrangeas and the like, it really got our goat when they ate our crops. Last year they ate the corn, soybeans, green beans, strawberries, etc. and nibbled down other random items at will. But the thing that pushed us over the edge was when they rubbed our newly planted trees to death. One day last year we lost 9 trees in one night because the bucks were rubbing the velvet off their antlers and also marking their territory for the upcoming mating season. Here are pics of some of the damaged trees. Ugh! The small fruit trees did not survive the scraping. The European Hornbeams may yet survive but will be misshapen. This was intolerable and we were moved to action.

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We inherited a 4 foot, chain link perimeter fence here but we know that deer will hop a 6-7 foot fence effortlessly.  So we were told that an eight foot perimeter fence is the only way to get past this problem. Unfortunately, enclosing the farm in 8 foot fencing is a giant money hog. So we decided to get creative and put some sweat equity into a project we could endorse and hope that it would solve our problem.

We found 7 foot tall pickets that curve outward at the top foot which theoretically adds to their effective height. We decided to lag these onto the existing fence posts (one foot off the ground) with industrial ties/clamps and run high tension wire thru holes that we drilled every 18″ from the top down to the existing fence. In order to drill them all in the same place, we made a jig on the work bench in the garage and Dave drilled 145 of them (3 holes each) all last fall and winter.


Here is a stack of drilled pickets on the lower shelf of the work bench, waiting to be installed.


We installed the pickets all fall and winter when little else was going on. Sometimes it was pretty darn cold when we were installing. After putting the pickets in place, we then pulled high tension wire thru the holes and then created a “stop” with a metal Ferrule. We pulled the wire opposing directions on a series of pickets to create tension. Here is what the wire stops looked like.

IMG_3797Here is the resulting line of pickets with wires. It kind of disappears into the greenery.

IMG_3342Although we are not yet entirely enclosed (the driveway needs a proper gate still and the east section has not been installed) we have certainly disturbed the travel pattern of the deer. They used to cross North/South and visa versa following the the swale which made sense. Now that the fence is up, we have caught them red handed as they approached the fence line and try to figure out what to do. I took these photographs in the late evening one day just before dark. You can see their eyes and their outlines as they traveled the fence line looking for a way into the yard.

IMG_0403So, this effort has been pretty successful but I do not like to jinx myself by saying we have solved the problem. Case in point. Two nights ago, I awoke in the early hours of the morning and decided to get a glass of cold water from the kitchen. I spied something thru the glass of the front door, and upon closer inspection, saw it was a deer, munching on the new roses that we planted in the front circle. At times like this I feel feral, as if I have a primitive hunting instinct that turns on and makes my hair stand on end. I reacted by charging thru the front door and yelling wildly. The deer ran off down the south side of the house, eastward, towards the back. Oh my, what had I done?  Chased the intruder towards the area I didn’t want him in? Egad, I didn’t want him to panic and charge the fence system! I went inside and grabbed our trusty Cyclops, a wonderful Christmas gift from our son, Peter, and slipped on my boots and ran out a rear door to check out the scene. The Cyclops is a large flashlight with a fabulous lamp and illumination range: it is shaped like a gun and is empowering to hold. We can illuminate a large area with it and keep it by the back door for just this type of use. Here is what it looks like.


So, despite being in my summer nightie I  dashed outside and “hunted” down the deer that had slipped down the alley towards the back. Of course he had not crossed into the yard thanks to the deer fence, but was definitely trying to figure out his options. With a steady beam of light on him, he skittered away and I was somewhat satisfied with my efforts and trudged back to the house until I realized that I had ‘chased’ him into the rear section of the property where the east deer fence had not yet been erected. Darn!  I turned around and walked back toward the east fence line and there I spotted him, outside of the fence but looking like he was still confused and might like a little snack. He was peering toward me the whole time I had my Cyclops light illuminating him. As I got closer and began to yell, he took off again and ran westward up the south side of the alleyway again and off into the darkness. I couldn’t really chase him anymore at this point and so went back inside and crept into bed. Dave was curious what had taken me so long getting my water and why I was out of breath with that effort!

So the perimeter is not yet secured but we are definitely causing a stir in the deer world as they are wondering why their local 7 Eleven is no longer open for shopping.

Update on my precious Barn Swallow family. Here are the four chicks tonight in their nest! They have grown so fast that I don’t think there is room for the parents in the nest any more! Aren’t they amazing!!!

Oh, by the way….it was raining again today! I will have water meter updates soon!


Living the Dream…..

We hear from friends and family all the time that we are “living the dream”! Well, although we love what we are doing, the reality is that the dream is a lot of really hard work. We are quite often exhausted – either  hot, cold, muddy, wet or sometimes all of the above – at the same time. The weather doesn’t always cooperate but we like to be prepared.IMG_3804


Sometimes we are just overwhelmed by what is on our plate each day but we tend to be ‘doers’ so this is working for us. We are not hiring people to do the work here since that would be about as enjoyable as having someone else chew our food for us. There is nothing as satisfying as growing the food you eat and eating food you’ve grown. There is a slight difference in these two concepts which I’ll explain later.

So yesterday was one example of living the dream. I rushed off to my day job, hit all my job sites, made all of my phone calls/e-mails before landing back at the farm just in time to get some blueberry picking done before the heat index rose above tolerable limits. Actually, the heat index can rise above in-tolerable limits too, but this was not one of those days – although it was too hot out to let Farley join us. After all, he is the KING of Seven Oaks!

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So I headed out with Dave, who was going to weed while I picked berries since it was too wet to do much else in the fields.

I started picking in my favorite row which has an abundant amount of very large fruit on every bush. Besides the pushy bird population that wants some action in the blueberries, we have an active black snake population (can you see where this is going?) that has been seen slithering thru the patch as well as other areas of the farm. We have regular sitings of them everywhere and so have been reminded to be aware of our surroundings and wear boots rather than flip flops!  Here is a black snake checking out the patch earlier this spring.


So, as I got to the end of the row I noticed a lot of flies and a distinct rotting odor. Phew! Upon further investigation, I found a black snake had gotten caught up (impossibly so as it turned out) in our bird netting. It had died and was rapidly decomposing in the heat. This type of situation demands instant attention. This is what he looked liked, poor fellow.


I say, ‘poor fellow’ since these snakes are known for their appetite for small rodents and most farmers like us have no issue with their presence and exist peacefully with them. Seven Oaks has a long history of black snakes since one of our carpenters found the skin of one wrapped around a can light in the attic when we were doing the initial work on the house. I proudly kept the skin in a box for proof of our bravery after learning that we had snakes in the attic but this is old news by now since I’ve photographed the snakes a bunch over the last couple of years.

IMG_0793It is well known that they live in the rock wall of the front, south landscape bed.


So, what started out as a lovely blueberry picking session ended with a gruesome adventure of ridding the net of the decomposing snake. Not to be too explicit, but I gathered an arsenal of disposable rubber gloves, a sharp serrated knife (think snake skin) and a long handled pliers as well as a shovel. Dave and I did the necessary surgery to cut the carcass free of the net (preserving the net at all costs!) and disposed of the parts in the woods, hoping that the flies would follow him there. We had this same issue last year with a black snake in the netting so it was a rather familiar experience but not for the faint of heart since the flies were buzzing around us all the while. Unfortunately, after dumping him in the woods, Dave was stung by a bee on the arm and had swelling, etc. to deal with. Luckily, no reaction besides redness and swelling that was addressed with ice. Just in case, tho, I was ready to go into emergency surgery mode with an improvised trach using a gift (with instructions!) from an undisclosed friend after my swarming episode last fall with Yellow Jackets.

So the blueberry picking was successful despite the snake and bee trauma. I also installed another deterrent to the bird population which we hope doesn’t look too low brow. It is a known fact that birds do not like to be around shiny material so I hung some tin foil plates to waffle in the wind.


It wasn’t the largest harvest we have had so far this year but I did manage to freeze 5 one pound packages of berries and had plenty for eating.

My other best news is that the barn swallow chicks are getting ready to leave the nest! At one point I spotted one missing and then now see they are all accounted for again. According to the books, the fledgelings will return for a week or so and still be fed by their parents. I also read that the third adult we saw in the vicinity of the nest yesterday could be a relative of the family and is just helping out.  They are so cute! Here is a pic!


The last part of my report on ‘living the dream’ was an episode of deer chasing in the middle of the night. Picture me, in my nightie and boots, running around first the front and then the back at 3-ish a.m. with our trusty Cyclops flashlight trying to keep the deer from our precious crops! It should make for a good story for tomorrow’s blog!

Rain, rain, rain

What a contrast in weather from last summer to this summer at Seven Oaks. After the terrible record drought of the last two summers, we swore that we would not complain about rain again. In fact, rain was such a scarcity last summer that when we did finally get some, on July 14th, 2012, we ran outdoors and sat and watched it and I actually PHOTOGRAPHED IT! If you look closely, you can see the rain drops in this pic! What you cannot see is that we were dancing a jig while we watched it fall and enjoyed the rarity of the experience.


But we are now in a rain pattern that has persisted for months and months and it continued last night with another healthy dose and just now started up again this afternoon with a torrent of driving rain. As luck would have it, we are now able to measure the rain fall amount here with new accuracy thanks to the help of a very precise tool that was a Christmas gift from our friends, the Moores. If we had this tool last year, it would have sat idle all summer.

So the Moores did some research in this area (and if I know Joan, it was extensive!) and found this very cool, yet simple device from Productive Alternatives, Inc. , a company out of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. http://www.paiff.org/  It actually measures precipitation to a one hundredth of an inch. We do love our gauge but this is also an amazing company! Here is an intro from their on line product page.

Welcome to Productive Alternatives, Inc.!

P.A.I. is a non-profit agency dedicated to providing diverse human services programming, offering viable workforce opportunities for businesses, and manufacturing and marketing innovative products.

We are committed to providing services of the highest quality. We offer a wide variety of human service programming — please look through our site to view our program offerings.

We also offer a variety of ways to meet the workforce needs of businesses,we provide public transportation options, and we have become an important means to develop, manufacture, and market new product ideas.

We appreciate your interest in P.A.I. If you wish to know more about our agency, please contact us!

Wait a minute, did you see that they are a non-profit organization??? I had to go back several times to read it correctly! This is so cool! Besides rain gauges, they also make  ice fishing equipment, fish scaling tools, wooden survey stakes and a few other oddities like something called the ‘Rapid Rake’. These are my kind of people! And this is a picture of our rain gauge! Image 17

The rain that is pelting down at this point is particularly amusing since our daughter, Kate, is visiting us now from California and she never sees rain like this where she lives. We are also always interested in the way our property drains since the visual of it is so evident to the eye. We have a swale that runs from north to south across the front yard, and then snakes around to the rear of the back yard, bifurcating the middle of the back acreage, changing to a south to north direction as it finally finds a way to drain out to the east. When the rain is heavy like it is today, the swale is so full of water that we joke that “A River Runs Through It” and we should get out our fly fishing equipment to take advantage of the river! We have photographed it often but here is an indication of it.

IMG_0649  The photo doesn’t do it justice since the water actually appears to have a current!

IMG_0648Of course, like all other records we keep, Dave has an Excel file of the rainfall that we have measured with our gauge since receiving it last December. I made one goof so far. As I started to write this post, I went outside and got the gauge, brought it indoors to read the particulars of the company name and took a photo for the blog. Then I started writing about it at my computer, all along admiring the rainfall stats and suddenly realized that the gauge was sitting on my desk and not out in the field while the rain was pelting down! Drat! I quickly ran out to place it on the terrace! Dave just gave me the measurement for the last hour which was .71 inches (not including the portion I lost while it was on my desk!). The gauge is in temporary residence on the terrace wall until we properly find a more open location farther from the house. You want your gauge to be unshielded from any nearby structure so I believe we should have it located farther from the house.

So far in 2013 we have recorded the rainfall totals at Seven Oaks as follows:

  • March as 5.46 inches
  • April, 7.12 inches
  • May, 5.58 inches
  • June, (so far including as of this post) 6.84 inches

This is AMAZING! We have been kept from our plow-able fields due to the extra wet conditions. The weeds, unfortunately are taking advantage of our nature and are prolific!

Some plants are loving the extra rainfall and others not so much. The pepper plants are quite happy with the extra rain and are producing lovely green as well as red peppers already.

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The tomato plants are thriving in the current heat and do not seem to have any objections to the rain either. We have 30 tomato plants (4 varieties) and 22 pepper plants (5 varieties).  IMG_4433

This is not entirely bad news for the blueberry crop since we have picked over 6 pounds of this fruit in only a couple of days so far this season. The plants do not particularly like the humidity but there is not much we can do about that except to regulate the soil conditions as best as possible.  The terrace has been full of wildly blooming petunias and the allee trees are loving the water so far as well.


The Birds at Seven Oaks

We are fully engaged at this point in the year with several aspects of the farm. We continue to plant, harvest and weed as the weather allows.  Spring and early summer are also wonderful times to follow the habits of the aviary population that presents itself in our surroundings and we follow it with interest as a flurry of nest building takes place all around us. In the early spring, we were overwhelmed by black birds.


I understand that not everyone is a bird fan, but I happen to be a huge one. I’m attracted to all of the wild life we follow on the farm but the birds some how get my special attention. I keep a dog-eared copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds at the ready – a gift from my dear friend, Joan Moore – many years before we landed at Seven Oaks Farm. I’m not the only birdwatcher around here!


We have identified many of the birds as residents or visitors here that are common in this area. Here is a partial list:

  • Common Flicker, (it’s coloring is so nice that I can’t understand why it is considered “common”)
  • Woodpeckers
  •  Yellow and Red Finches
  • Cardinals
  • Wrens of all sorts
  • Robins
  • Thrushes
  • Red Wing Black Birds
  • Sparrows (a crowded category!)
  • Blue Jays
  • Barn Swallows (a current favorite)
  • Crows
  • Blackbirds
  • Chickadees
  • Morning Doves
  • Wild Turkeys
  • Hummingbirds
  • Hawks  (a wide variety but particularly Cooper Hawks)
  • Owls – not sure which ones since they are harder to identify due to their nocturnal nature

We love that some of these birds do a good job of keeping the pesky critter population down (mostly the owls and hawks) and others are swooping around catching the mosquitoes and other flying insects. Their nests can be admirable or unsightly. This pair of robins found some plastic wrappings to help cement their nest! We are eager to get rid of this nest since it is at the front side entrance to the house.


They sometimes need to be chased from our crops, especially the blueberry crop since birds love to eat our berries! But some of their habits are just more appreciable than others. My current favorite is the barn swallow pair that have nested and produced hatch-lings at our center front door.  This bird is a small, split tail species with gorgeous coloring. Its underbelly is coral in color while its upper body and wings are deep blue/purple.


The adults work hard to capture flying insects to feed their young which is a positive thing. We currently have a nest of 2 adults plus 4 nestlings at our front door way and we see them “hunting”, low to the ground, in the ‘clear’ areas of both the front and back of the property.  These birds built their nest out of a mud and small twigs using almost no base at all. When they started this nest, I was surprised they could make a go of it since there was nothing but a corner of bricks in an overhang area to entice them.


It was fascinating to watch this pair of adults dive bomb a hawk who was hunting last week in the vicinity of their nest. Of course I could not help but take some pics.


This robin couple made a nest right outside of my office on the top of one of our lights. Unfortunately, we spied broken eggs on the terrace one day so their efforts were not fruitful and they abandoned the nest.

IMG_3955The wild turkey flocks are rather interesting to watch but they scratch in the fields and beds and make a mess, much like the unwelcome geese.

IMG_8721The hawks, present year round, keep the rodent population down and provide us with many photo ops.

IMG_8457 Perhaps the most unusual of local birds are the peacocks that live down the lane. They wander about at will but we are mostly aware of their presence by their odd, loud call.


Blueberries are ripening!

Yesterday was an interesting convergence of harvests….I think we picked the last of the strawberries on the same day that blueberry picking started!

Before leaving the subject of strawberries, I just want to mention that we had a month, to the day, of strawberry picking – May 19th thru June 19th. After the heavy rain we had on Monday (1.8 inches) we picked a little less than a pound yesterday. The rain was a factor because the field was too wet to pick on Monday or Tuesday and any fruit that was out there on those days was over wet/ripe by today.  Had we not had that rain, I’m sure we would have broken the 160 pound mark for the year but alas, we ended up with 159 pounds, 4oz of strawberries! The extremes of last year’s drought and this year’s flooding conditions are almost too much to comprehend. Frankly, I felt a bit more in control with last year’s drought than this year’s overwhelming rain amounts.

The first blueberry picking was done yesterday by Kate, who is visiting from California. She is always eager to jump in and help with any farm chores and this visit is no exception. On her last visit we had the added help of her fiancee, Jason Ward. Here they are, ready to help with the potato weeding and ‘hilling’.

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We planted Yukon Gold and Pontiac Reds and with 110 starts, we should have about 1,000 pounds of potatoes to harvest this year. These plants are enjoying all the rain!


Back to the blueberries…We are struggling with the netting we currently have on the blueberries. As these shrubs have grown over the last two years, we have altered our protective netting for the fruit. This year, with the threat of our first serious crop, we are up against a voracious bird population and their intent to undermine our harvest. The issue at hand is that we are using a netting of a certain size and the coverage of our plants is on the edge of the net size vs. bed size.  The reason this is an issue is that our blueberry shrubs have shot up in height and so we now have to provide netting for 5 foot tall plants in beds that are 35 feet long. The largest standard netting is 14’x45′ which just barely covers one of the five beds. We have also found that all netting brands are not the same! We much prefer the Bird-X brand and can get it more reliably on line.We are trying to keep the nets off the plants so we have tall stakes around the perimeter to support the net. We are considering other options but hope to win the battle of the birds vs. berries.


Our blueberry plants are the high bush variety, (five different cultivars – listed here in order of their ripening sequence: Patriot, Blue Ray, Blue Crop, Jersey and Elliot) so we currently ‘open’ the enclosure at one of the ends of the beds by pulling the netting aside and picking the fruit while walking (stooped for this tall clan) along inside the net enclosure.  Kate picked 11.5 oz of blueberries yesterday from three of the varieties…just a hint of what is to come.

IMG_4370Here is proof that when we brag that these are as large as a nickle, we aren’t exaggerating!


I spent the early morning hours weeding the front beds – another consequence of all the rain – while Kate and Dave dead-headed the roses.


We also had a house call from our resident horticulturist, Mary Ellen Hetenyi, who was concerned about the recent rosette virus that is attacking the rose population…even the hardiest of varieties such as ours, the Double Knock-Outs. She did an inspection today and declared us free of disease but we are now on alert and will be careful to keep on top of this issue.

“Observation unrecorded is knowledge lost.”

Dave came across this line last year while he was reading “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose. The quote is attributed to James Ronda who wrote, “Lewis and Clark Among the Indians”, but I found the direct reference in this magazine piece by Ronda, ‘A Knowledge of the Distant Parts’, The Shaping of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, published by the Montana Historical Society. I believe it can be found here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4519424

Dave has been an avid recorder of our daily lives at Seven Oaks during the last 2.5 years. He has done this by penning his comments in multiple composition books (he is on his fourth book now) but has also added an Excel spreadsheet format to aid in the recording of the weighed harvest quantities from last year and of the now in-progress harvest of 2013. It is very nice to be able to check back into the log and see what we planted, where, when, what and the conditions we faced (temperature, rainfall etc.) and observe the outcome. Although we are nowhere in the company of the the likes of Lewis and Clark, to us, the daily experience of life on this property is well worth recording since it brings a great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment to our lives.

Our friend, Kathy Bussmann, recently shared with us the handwritten log of her great, great-grandfather’s farm in Connecticut from the late 1800s. The ledger style book itself was impressive with beautifully marbled covers with entries that ranged over many years. The ink recordings were in some ways difficult to read due to abbreviations and handwriting trends of the day, but Dave spent time pouring over it and enjoyed it immensely; we are grateful that she shared it with us, thank you Kathy!

For the most part, I am on the other end of the camera, obsessively photographing everything. It is why I’m rarely in the photos…clever, eh? My mantra is: If you don’t have a picture of it, it didn’t happen. I also whip out my camera for the most banal photos like this one of our resident turtle who was slowly making his way across the driveway the other day. He seems to have found a great way to camouflage himself in the driveway stones. We have yet to name him. (The hawks have been given names since we have been able to follow and photograph them as well as other nesting birds. More on this subject later.)


I, too, keep a log of the food we preserve so that I can track the results and hopefully improve on the methods and recipes. Since the last strawberry posting, I picked another 20 lbs of strawberries and made 46 more half pints of jam which gave the overloaded refrigerator some relief! The production of fruit is slowing down significantly (yesterday was only 7lbs 5.25 oz) but our total for the year is now just one pound short of  160! I’m just a bit relieved that the season is ending since I think I was starting to get a repetitive action ache in my wrist from all the hulling!

I totaled the jam I’ve made so far this year and it has added up to 90 half pints and 5 quarter pints! I should add up the sugar we have used. 😉 We have tasted two of the quarter pints from the first two batches to compare and have given away 12 half pints to friends and family. IMG_4286This is our typical breakfast of yogurt and berries with jam on toast.

Highlights for the day include picking 2 plus pounds of peas! We shelled them and put them into the risotto we served at a family dinner last night. There is something about shelling peas that makes me smile. I love seeing the little peas inside their pod! We also served our lettuce, radishes and scallions in a salad. Yum!

Image 6ImageBoth large fields have been almost entirely planted but we will continue to plant some things – like green beans – in waves so that we are not too overwhelmed when harvesting. We experimented with the purchase of plants on line recently since Burpee was offering an end of the season sale. We were having a difficult time locating some banana peppers this late in the season so we ordered a pkg of three and this is how they arrived…kind of cool!

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We had a wonderful rain last night. Our rain gauge indicates that we got nearly half an inch which was a perfect amount. It allows us to use the day to catch up on our logs, continue to read and study up on our favorite subjects and rest up for our next endeavor. Here are some of the books Dave got for his birthdayImage 1 Image 2.

A note of remembrance

Image 1My dear father died a year ago today. He was an incredible person and has been dearly missed during this past year by all of us. He really loved what we were attempting to do here at the farm and enjoyed spending time watching our efforts during the last two years of his life. Having spent his first 28 or so years on the Luehrman family farm in Lexington, Missouri, he was full of knowledge about farm life. Luehrman Farm







I believe his stories are a great part of my inspiration here since I think of him constantly as we go thru the cycle of planting and harvesting. He enjoyed sharing farm stories and I am sure he would have liked to have given us a few more lessons on how to do things right, but he also knew that one of the most valuable tools was to learn by doing. “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin.

Here are some more photos of Papa Pete. He so enjoyed celebrating his birthday! I believe it was because he just enjoyed living so much but I also think it was because he relished being surrounded by his family and friends!

Here is the wise old owl as he celebrated his 90th birthday.

IMG_9472And here he is pictured with one of the birthday gifts from that year…a cap from his days on the track team from Missouri Valley College.

IMG_1154This is the 89th celebration.

IMG_8551And many other birthdays and family events we all celebrated together with him thru the years.

IMG_6793OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_0005IMG_4140 IMG_8359Julie, nan, lisa, tim, mom and dad p6270080 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA P9280016Rest in Peace, Pete!IMG_0009

Happy Birthday to Dave…as the Adventures Abound!

There has been no lack of adventure here at the farm recently. We have been battling a killer mole for the past 4 days or so. This little bugger has been frolicking in the north, front landscape bed for the last couple of days, disturbing the area in general but also  wreaking havoc in the newly planted pachysandra plants. Arg! We are always encouraged by our expert mole hunting friend, Lucy, and so we kept about our efforts with two newer style traps (“Easy-Set” Mole Eliminator) as well as other stealth methods of pursuit that included a hose (think water boarding) and a shovel.

Perhaps difficult to see in the photo, but here is the disruption in the newly planted pachysandra bed.

IMG_4297While observing the damaged area this evening, I spied some movement in the area where he was working and sent him to his maker by flipping the sod to expose him and then smacking him on the head with a shovel! It may be too much for some viewers, but here was the outcome!

Image 3

Okay, so, I’m a little obsessed with the mole thing, but good riddance!

I was able to re-plant my new sprigs of pachy and off we go to the next adventure!

Yesterday was another big strawberry picking and jam making day. Everyone is already tired of hearing about the numbers but do realize that we are now at 140 pounds for the year and I also preserved another 11.5 pints of jam yesterday. I’m starting to distribute a bit of the jarred evidence since we are a sharing sort. One here, one there and everyone is happy, right? Now I need to work on the new labels for the 2013 farm harvest!

We tasted the first of the spring peas today. You can pick and eat peas at various stages of their maturity but it is really fun to pick pea pods and actually shell them for their contents. I picked the first of these today and ate tasted it right there in the field. This means, you pull a pod from the plant, open it by splitting the seam with a little pressure with your fingers and eat the wonderfully, fresh, tender, uncooked peas, as they so proudly present themselves in a delicate, offset row, in the pod. Nirvana.

IMG_4294There seems to never be a dull moment here. This morning was no exception. We started the early morning moments  with the quiet of a rose snipping session since the double knock outs are looking as if they needed some relief from their spent blossoms. I also planted 24 more vegetative petunia plants in the front beds.

Wouldn’t you know, one of our masons arrived with a jackhammer to start the planned demolition on the rear terrace steps. The steps were built too steeply for a natural tread and were a trip hazard in addition to be being unsightly. So I’m re-working them using old stone pavers that were removed from another job due to stone sap issues. I don’t mind the ‘aged’ look and am pleased to re-purpose the building material. Here is what we found when we removed the old Travertine treads and risers.  The good news is that there is a poured concrete base….and the bad news is that there is a poured concrete base! Although he got most of the tread and risers removed today, Mike will be continuing with the noise making tomorrow at 7am! IMG_4332Finished photos to follow in a couple of weeks!

Although the strawberries continue to be prolific, we see signs of future abundance everywhere we look. The blueberry bushes are full of fruit and ready to ripen any day. They look to be our next ‘cash’ crop!

Here is one pic of the apples that have also set on and are ripening as well as the peaches and nectarines!IMG_4334 Our family and friends have enjoyed eating the fresh produce we have delivered to them, but I’ve been particularly pleased that our friend, Jill, and her daughter are experimenting with some jam making! Yeah! I’m glad to have instilled some preservation enthusiasm in others!

In Search of Friends….

The empty jars and shelves await new friends!

IMG_4274Oh my, the guests are beginning to arrive!

Today I made 2 batches of strawberry jam using two different “recipes” but both used Pectin. I did a bunch of research on line about pectin and it is a good thing, not a bad thing to use! Wiki goes into the details if anyone is interested http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pectin but pectin is basically the polysaccharides, or cell structure of various plants (mostly fruits) that is processed into a powder, which helps with the congealing process. (I think I have a bunch of congealing going on in my aged body but it sounds so much better when talking about jam and not asses!) I found a chart of fruits and their natural, relative, pectin levels. Strawberries are in the group with the smallest percent of natural pectin. And guess what. The riper the fruit, the smaller the percentage of pectin. This makes perfect sense since the cell walls of the fruit start to deteriorate as the fruit ripens and gets softer and softer until it is mush! Acidity is also a factor in this mix but that comes in on the part of the preservation of the item. The recipes I used yesterday included lemon and I used it in one of the batches today as well. It is basically a balancing act!

So, my really ripe strawberries could use some help in the congealing process. What I cooked up yesterday is just fine and dandy but was the old fashioned version where the fruit was cooked with the sugar until the sugar became thick enough to support the whole. (Think candy and candy thermometers!) Unfortunately, the boiling, boiling, boiling takes so long that the fruit has perhaps lost some nutritional value. Bummer, right?!!?! Hopefully the jam is still wonderful and the taste test will be the determining factor. But I’m so glad to have done some research and experimented with the 2 batches today.

The best thing I did today (after working out in the fields with Dave all morning -planted more onions and weeded the blueberries – to beat the rain that arrived around noon) was to get a weight for a measurement of smashed berries. It turns out that 3 pounds berries, equals 6 cups of smashed berries. Put that in your record books since it is very annoying to read recipes that say use ‘4 pints of berries’ or use ‘4 cups smashed’. I find weighing to be more universal and I will try to keep to the scale for my recipes. So the first batch used 3 pounds of hulled fruit and the second batched used 3.5 pounds. Who wants to bother with the measurement of pre-smashed versus post smashed! Ugh! The pectin in both was 1.5 pkgs of Sure-Gel but the sugar was greater in the larger batch and I think it had an impact in the volume.

Here is a pic of the days of processing: 20 half pints of jam! 8 in regular half pints (the first batch) and 12 in wide mouth ones (the second)! Gorgeous color even tho the wide mouth do not show it as easily in the pic.