The Fruits of All Our Labors….And First Grandson Arrives

Coulter Allen Ward, nicknamed “Cal” (named after his two grandfathers – using both of their middle names), was born yesterday afternoon in California! He is a healthy, 9lb – 3oz baby boy who is delighting his parents and enrapturing his extended family with shared peeks as we receive his first photos. Here he is sporting the knitted cap from Nana which says “Baby” on one side and “Ward” on the other. IMG_2600We are over the moon with his sweet, sweet arrival! Here he is in profile…I just want to gobble him up!We can’t wait to welcome him to the farm and get him eating all the farm goodies we will have to offer!IMG_2597 I will leave on Saturday to help out as the Ward family spends their final month in California before transitioning to nearby Kirkwood, Missouri at the end of May. Did I mention that we are over the moon??? Nothing compares to welcoming a little baby! Congrats to the proud parents! Well done!

That said, despite our distractions with the arrival of this newest family member, we are pressured to get the fields planted when we can – so the peas went in today. We put in 4 rows (22′ long – about 200 seeds) of Burpee ‘Easy Peasy’ seeds that are a self supporting variety and we had good luck with them last year. Does anyone remember that I was harvesting the last of them when waiting for the bride to arrive last year a week in advance of the wedding? Yummy peas to look forward to in June!

I also worked in the strawberries as well since we are constantly weeding that patch and we plan to do some infill with new plants as soon as the soil conditions allow. There are plenty of blooms on existing plants and some fruit has set on already! Can you see the green strawberries in this pic? Look for the two nodding (downward turned) former blossoms that are below the lower blossom.  We have two varieties of June bearing plants but only the earlier one has set on.IMG_7592Talk about setting on…the orchard is crazy with fruit right now! The peaches and nectarines are absolutely loaded with tiny fruits! It may be hard to see, but the white round/oblong part of this pic is the fuzzy fruit of a peach. The blossom end is still attached but that will fall off soon. We may still have to cull some young fruits off these smaller trees but we are hoping for a stellar season of stone fruits!IMG_7587The apple/pear side of the orchard is in a similar situation! The evidence of small, future fruits from the blossoms are just profoundly evident! Future apples (little swells) are just under the crown of the stamens!IMG_7590The blueberries are also prolific and blooming their heads off with more fruit set on than I’ve seen any other year! Here are blossoms. IMG_7595We put the netting back on the blueberries today. This maneuver is a two person job but is still tricky to do since the nets get caught on the posts here and there (and even our boot eyelets!) but we try very hard not to let the netting touch the blossoms since they will tear at them and rip them off if we are not careful. The nets are 14 feet wide by 45 feet long so they can be rather cumbersome to install. They are trickier after several seasons since they have repairs and spots that are tangled. Here is one of the large stored nets that we unfurled today and installed on one of 5 varieties of blueberries. IMG_7597 In order of ripening: we have 10 each of these bushes: Patriot, Blue Ray, Blue Crop, Jersey and Eliot varieties.

IMG_7598It is difficult to focus on the farm when all we want to do is admire our first grandchild but this is a busy time of year! We look forward to sharing all that we have to offer here with this little guy as he nestles into our lives in the coming years!

Love and kisses to our new little grandson from “Nana” and “Gramps”! Story to follow on this name for Dave but one of his grandfathers was called Gramps. Large boots to fill…certainly a worthy goal to strive for and an example to set for all grandchildren.

Bittersweet Breakfast…

We enjoy indulging in a relaxing, bountiful breakfast every morning here at the farm since neither of us needs to rush off to offices or business meetings at this point in our lives. For the most part, our morning schedule is of our own making and this makes the routine all the more enjoyable. Reading the New York Times while sipping really good coffee from freshly ground beans is de rigueur here.

I just looked up the correct spelling of de rigueur and realized, given the definition that accompanied the spelling, I had been using the phrase incorrectly all these years…I thought it meant ‘the standard’ or ‘the expected norm’.  Here is the definition, something that I would never subscribe to:

So, I’ll start that sentence again…Reading the NYTs while sipping really good coffee from freshly ground beans is part of our daily, morning routine…so much so that when Dave rises from bed around 5am to take the dog out and start the coffee, I am often still prone but share my words of encouragement, “make it strong!” meaning the coffee, of course!

Although I don’t always eat sensibly all day long, breakfast is usually the same for me…fruit and yogurt with lots of coffee.   We I ate the last of the fruit from the 2014 harvest today so it was a bittersweet moment. IMG_7564

The ‘bitter’ part is that the last of the fruit from last year’s harvest is now consumed. The ‘sweet’ part is that the last of the fruit from last year’s harvest is now consumed…at last! Yes, it is wonderful that our fields produced over 2,310 lbs of edibles last year, much of which we consumed fresh but also gave away or stored in a frozen, canned or dried manner. Using the frozen, canned or dried produce all winter long requires diligence as we try to cook with our ingredients in mind and hope to empty our cupboards before the next year’s supplies start to tumble in!

Case in point, we are still working down the potatoes from the cellar and yet have planted the newest crop already. No pressure! But most items are long gone and we are looking forward to the return of their fresh reprisal this year. We will certainly benefit from sharing more in the future! I’m off to make chili for dinner…using tomatoes from last year’s harvest, (while they last, of course!)

In the meantime, here is a pic of a few of the dogwood/azalea/ferns as referenced in yesterday’s post. The azaleas are just beginning to bloom, with various colors coming later.IMG_7567Perhaps best of all, the front cornerstone with azalea blooms popping out below.

IMG_7571Alas, Baby Ward is not feeling any pressure for his arrival. I changed my plane tickets again today and Kate and I joked that we are now on Plan “D”. I think of this as “D” for delivery!  Crossing fingers and toes at this point…updates will be provided!

Spring Has Arrived…But Baby Ward Has Not!

Spring is finally here at the farm but not without what has seemed like endless rain. (In fact, it is raining now which is why I’m getting a chance to compose a post!) If you recall, we had trouble stringing together enough dry days to get the tractor into the fields to plow them but it has been equally difficult to get the fields tilled for planting the early spring crops. With the ground still so wet and cold, there really isn’t any reason to have anything planted anyway since cold, wet seeds will just rot in the ground without the warmth of the drying sun! You know it is way too wet to work your soil if you can’t even weed your flower beds. Such was our predicament the last couple of weeks. An example of the high ground water is evident in the fact that our in-ground water spigots were actually too flooded to operate. Although we could simply wait for the water to subside, the plastic collars around these sub-surface spigots actually inhibits drainage so we used a hand operated bilge pump and put it to work relieving some of the excess water. Yes, it was a bit of a pain, but as you can see, we were able to drain off lots of water from each spigot site as well as from some of the flooded furrows in the fields. IMG_7533We were finally able to get the fields tilled this week…again under the pressure of more rain on the way this weekend. Here is Dave doing a nice job of tilling things up, incorporating all the lovely composted leaf matter that we added over the fall and winter to each field. IMG_7551 (1)With this task under our belts, we prepared the seed potatoes for planting. This year, in addition to the standbys of Yukon Gold and Pontiac Red varieties, we added two rows of Dakota Pearl potatoes to the mix. According to one website these potatoes “make delicious chips and are outstanding for roasting or mashing and produce high yields of smooth-skinned spuds with attractive creamy white flesh”. How could we go wrong?  64593It is difficult to accurately predict how many viable plants you will get from any particular variety of potato you purchase since you cut up the seed potato in such a way as to get at least two “eyes” per piece. (If the potato is golf ball sized, you just leave it whole and don’t cut it at all.) Our intention was to purchase and prepare enough seed potatoes to fill ten, 20 foot long rows, spaced 1 foot apart. When you buy your potatoes, you don’t quite know how many “eyes” you will have so you make sure you have plenty to spare. So we cut the potatoes to divide them into “eyes” and allowed them to “heal over” for a day or two (which means the cut sides get some air to dry out a bit) and then we coated them with agricultural sulpher. This helps to keep the flesh from rotting in the field after planting and discourages nibbling ground insects from going after the flesh. Once the field was ready for planting, we prepared the rows by making  4″ deep trenches with our hoe. We placed the “seeds” cut side down with their eyes upwards, one foot apart and then covered the trench with the waiting, mounded soil from digging. This is a lot of work, but here are some of the rows of seed potatoes ready to cover up. IMG_7546 After getting all the rows planted, we had 10 to 12 each of two varieties left over. I hated to waste these and started to think of anyone we knew who might appreciate our excess of prepared seed potatoes. I sent a text to my gardening friend, Brenda Zanola, asking if she had any interest in these and she immediately responded “YES!” and popped over on her way home from work to gather up the spoils.  She is a long time Missouri Botanical Garden employee who knows her way around a garden so I know these will find a good home. She reminded me that her Irish ancestors were potato farmers in Ireland oh so many years ago so this felt like a special gift indeed. Typically, potatoes are supposed to be planted on St. Patty’s Day…March 17…but alas, here we were, planting them on April 17th this year. “Erin Go Bragh!”

So with the fields finally plowed and tilled and 200 potato plants in the ground, we should finally get the rest of the garden planted as time allows. In the meantime, the apples, pears, blueberries and strawberries are in full bloom and the bees are delighted. IMG_7538After a good spring clean up the landscape beds are full of spring promise as well. The Portuguese laurels look as if they benefited from last winter’s burlap protection and promising new leaves are evident as well as flower buds. The blooming dogwoods and nearby azaleas are accented by tender, young ferns popping up in the undergrowth. All 45 of the Double Knockout roses are leafing out nicely after their first feeding and promise to provide color all summer long. We have added some organic material to the flower beds and ornamental trees in the front landscaping. The pachysandra ground cover is particularly hungry for this supplement. IMG_7485This time of year is a very busy time for working with the bees. We had three very healthy hives here at the farm when we checked in on a warm day in last January but one hive apparently ‘went south’ (no, it did not swarm to more southern climates, but rather died out!) when we checked on it two weeks later, we found it was not viable. Although I was really disappointed to discover this, I reassured myself that this was statistically expected…most beekeepers can expect a 30% loss during the ‘over-wintering’ period. Interesting to note that one of our hives is actually extraordinarily strong while the one right next to it failed under the identical weather conditions. So go figure. As I learn more about beekeeping I am finding there are so many contributing factors that impact the hive conditions and they are not always due to human error.  Jurgen’s other beeyards experienced similar issues over the winter but he knows how to rebound from the situation.

So we have spent our time assessing and manipulating the hives that survived in order to go forward. Case in point, we had one hive at another bee yard that looked very active. The bees were pulling in pollen, putting nectar into cells and were very active and busy but there were no eggs or brood in the hive despite the presence of a queen. Apparently, this queen was just lazy or otherwise ineffective since she was not laying eggs. Unlike the hive that had died out, this hive had a healthy population of active bees but an ineffective queen. If the queen doesn’t lay eggs, the hive has no future. Soooo, Jurgen decided to remove the queen and will replace her with another one. If he had not replaced her, the hive would have gone thru this transformation on its own by creating a new queen cell and “growing” a new queen that would supersede the ineffective one. Not willing to wait for this to happen, we captured the queen and hurried the process along by getting rid of her ourselves. Here is Jurgen examining her, using this opportunity to experiment with ways to mark our future queens. Some beekeepers grasp the queen by their thorax and paint this area to mark them. We typically mark a queen in a little tube that doesn’t require such a hands on experience, but it is good to be familiar with all methods for handling these insects.

Expecting this type of seasonal scenario, Jurgen acquired 4 new queens to install wherever we needed them in various bee yards this spring. Purchased, new queens are already mated and come in little cages along with their ‘attendants’.  Here is what this looks like. IMG_7512On the right side of the cage is a cork plug with a sugar block just next to it. After we place the queen cage in the hive, we wait a couple of days for the hive bees to get used to her and then I will remove the tiny cork which will allow the bees to eat thru the sugar and expose the queen in a gradual way to the hive. The anticipation of a new queen is huge to the hive! Here is Jurgen installing a queen cage in one of the hives at Seven Oaks.

Since then we have continued to foster the newer colonies by feeding them sugar syrup to ensure that they have a food source until the nectar flow increases in the blooming season. Yesterday we visited all five bee yards and added honey supers on top of all of the deep brood boxes. These honey supers are boxes which contain 10 frames each that the bees will draw out with comb and then fill with honey and cap with wax. Many of Jurgen’s frames are already drawn out which is a great advantage! In order to encourage the bees to get to work on this process, we sprayed each frame with sugar water. It was a good day of beekeeping since the weather was nice enough that we weren’t sweating to death in our heavy suits and carrying around empty honey supers is much lighter work than it will be in a couple of months from now when we hope to be lifting these same supers off to harvest around 4o lbs of honey from each box. Here are the hives at Seven Oaks. There are 5 active colonies with a spare hive for expanding later in the season. Hives 3 and 7 are the newer ones, and still have entrance reducers in the front opening since these colonies are not strong enough yet to protect their entrance from possible intruders.   IMG_7562

At the end of a good day of beekeeping, Helen treated me to some of Jurgen’s freshly baked sour dough bread (cranberry walnut) with his favorite brand of German butter. What a special treat!   IMG_7560We continue to be on WARD WATCH, as Kate calls it, since everyone is still drumming fingers in anticipation of Baby Ward’s arrival. He is a full week late at this juncture but one way or another, the clock is ticking down since the doctor is giving him a short reprieve before they start nudging things along. In the meantime, the Ward family has purchased a house not far from the farm (actually, a short walk away) so we are thoroughly enjoying the thought of having all three of them in close proximity by the end of May! We are delighted by the prospect of sharing the farm activities as well as fresh produce with them!

March-ing Forward With Signs of Spring!

I can’t believe how quickly time passes at Seven Oaks Farm these days! We have had so many activities in February and March…it seems we are endlessly busy! I’m touched that so many readers have reached out to ask if all is well since they seem to LIKE the updates and are looking for the next episode at the farm. I hope to be more regular with blog posts in the future but the busier I am, the less time there is to write!

Let me go back to February for a few updates. One reader asked how we could possibly top the His and Hers Machete purchases when Valentines Day came around?!? Well, of course, we had an answer, but this time we gave ourselves something just a little less pointy and sharp as Valentines Day brought about a mutual gift of everlasting fruits! Yes, Dave and I decided to expand the orchard (have mercy!) with the addition of more fruit trees and some grape vines, all from Stark Brothers Nursery in Louisiana, Missouri. We made an order for Stanley Plum trees which are a free stone and self pollinating variety. Of course the yield is better if pollinated by another tree of the same variety, so we bought 2 but also know the bees will help us out on effectively ensuring pollination.  Stanley plumsWe also decided to put our toe in the water with some grapevines. We bought 3 each of two seedless varieties – Concord and Marquis – both of which are recommended for our area. They were purchased as bare root specimens so they are currently in a dormant stage in one of our refrigerators until it is time to plant. Here are the Concords…concord_grape_variety  And here are the Marquis….

Figure 082 marquis grapes February was also the regular orchard pruning month since this needs to be done while the trees are still dormant. The majority of the trees are on their fourth year of pruning and the good news this year was that the trees are much more developed than they were in the past which meant it took a lot longer to actually do this work since there are many more cuts to make. We once again benefited from the expertise of our arborist friend, Jon Lanaghan, and picked a day that was supposed to have relatively moderate temps. Well, the weather predictions were wickedly incorrect and we found ourselves pruning in freezing temps that felt much worse due to brutally cold winds. It was one of those days when all the layers of sweaters and coats, topped by our long jump suits, did not keep the cold at bay. My teeth rattled for hours after we finally retreated inside, but we did get the job done and the orchard is off to a promising year! Each variety of fruit tree demands a different shaping which is why it is so helpful to have Jon’s guidance. I think he secretly enjoys coming to help us since he doesn’t have many other clients with an urban orchard of this sort. Many of the trees are now so tall that we had to reach up and pull branches down to us to make the cuts. We were encouraged by the evidence of a glut of fruit buds – which are different from leaf buds – particularly on the north side of the orchard which is where the stone fruit is located.  IMG_7188 I attended another daylong bee workshop in early February that was presented by the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association. Last year I went to the beginners sessions so when it was time to register this year, Jurgen told me that I was qualified to attend the advanced sessions. That was terrific news! The speakers were impressive and I learned a lot but not unlike last year, after 8+ hours of intense listening and learning, I drove home overwhelmed with new and technical information but also inspired by this new knowledge. I purchased some new bee equipment (there were vendors there selling their bee related wares) and also a blue bird house that was hand crafted by one of the expert beekeepers in our group, John Pasha. He actually boils each piece of cedar in beeswax from his apiary before assembling the pieces so to better protect the house from the elements. My favorite parts about this house are the decorative, brass hinges he uses on the door to allow the clean-out of the interior and the copper around the opening which keeps squirrels from gnawing at the entrance. I’m crossing my fingers that we will manage to attract some blue birds in the future!IMG_7491 John also brought his display of antique smokers for an exhibit. Beekeepers use smoke to calm the bees when they are working with them and it was amazing to see so many vintage smokers, many custom made by beekeepers around the world. I think my grandfather, Irvin Telligman who was a blacksmith, would have enjoyed seeing these but I imagine as someone who knew how to use a bellows he would also have had an opinion about some of their effectiveness too! IMG_7164February was a month of visitors to the farm as well since Kate and Jason flew in for a long weekend of house hunting and celebrating with a baby shower. We hosted the Walsh family – Chris, Jessica, Abigail and Lucy – from Kansas City for the weekend. Many of you may remember that Chris was Jason’s best man and Abigail did her best to sprinkle the seeds of love down the aisle at the wedding. They brought bundles of freshly baked goodness from their home to ours as well as fresh eggs from Jessica’s family farm. We devoured all these goodies with relish!  IMG_7247 February quickly turned into March but spring weather was slow to arrive. While Dave drove to Stark Brothers in early March to pick up the new plant material, I managed to get out into the orchard to apply the once a year dormant oil spray. This is an organic way to smother any future insects while they are still in their egg stage by coating the entire tree from top to bottom with an oily mixture. It is best to do this on a calm, windless day, but the window of time for applying this is very narrow…after the last frost and before the leaves and buds pop out…so that day chose me this year rather than the other way around. Again, the increased size of the trees meant that I worked at this much longer than previous years and found that even the slightest puff of wind was rather messy as one must circle the tree while spraying and some oily blow back was inevitable. After half a day of spraying, I too, was sufficiently covered in dormant oil spray!

Despite being itchy to get out into the fields to plant the early, cold loving veggies like peas and potatoes, we must wait for the weather to cooperate by stringing together enough dry days to get the tractor into the fields to plow. That day finally happened this week but not without the threat of rain to keep us motivated. Although it would have been nice to have a bit dryer conditions, Dave managed to plow up both fields in one afternoon and finished within hours of more rain. You can see how muddy his tires are! IMG_1824 The peaches, nectarines and cherries are now beginning to blossom and the bees are delighted to finally find some pollen. IMG_7478   The strawberries are peaking out from their straw…. IMG_1816and the blueberries have impressive, swelling buds that are the promise for a healthy crop again this year… IMG_1817The trees are not the only thing swelling in the Sauerhoff family!!! Kate and Jason are awaiting the arrival of Baby Ward who is due to arrive April 12th. I’ve done a bit of knitting for him since Kate wanted something special to cover his little head. Here is his hospital hat…(it says ‘Baby’ on the front and ‘Ward’ on the back) as well as a little sweater for next winter…

IMG_7359IMG_7148 I managed to knit up another sweater for me as well, a Nordic design, that will keep me warm in the future. IMG_7449 Here’s hoping that the next posting from the farm will be about the newest family member and that we will finally have a name instead of the popular A. Ward appellation he has been carrying around now for months! Stay tuned!