Awaiting Springtime’s Bounty

I’m itching to get my fingers into the dirt!

Advertisements

It’s that time of year when it feel like it’s never going to be warm again.  Everything outside looks dead, but my fingers are itching to get into the dirt.  Seed catalogs come in the mail and make me even more anxious.  I have too many seeds, but it doesn’t stop me from plotting and planning.  What shall we do with the vegetable garden this year?

11270182_10204604701177857_2820515400406522940_n.jpg
Lettuces, carrots, and onions

I always plant tomatoes.  Okay, last year I didn’t.  I let my whole veggie patch go fallow last year and it was overtaken by marigold volunteers.  I usually have some in the garden for 11231153_10204950992394921_9133310131842336802_ntheir benefits to the soil and pollinating insects, and I expect to be fighting them this year for space.  Our favorite variety of cherry tomato is SunGold.  It’s a hybrid, and they are golden, sweet, and not too acidic and always do pretty well in the garden.  For some reason, larger varieties of tomatoes don’t do so well, but I suspect my soil is missing something.  I’m not the best gardener in the world and I’ve never tested my soil, so I’m not sure that that is.  This year I plan on fixing that by buying a test kit and I’ve got a nice, big compost pile started, safely fenced off from the chickens, for adding some good organic matter to the soil.  As for large tomato varieties, I can recommend Cherokee Purple.  I grew exactly one fruit a few years ago.  It’s sweet and meaty and quite attractive.  This year I am trying a variety of heirlooms, starting them by winter sowing.  It’s an experiment, but I hope to at least have eight plants come from it.  I’ll be sure to review them as they ripen, if they do.

My favorite spring crop are the radishes – the hotter the better.  I plan13263767_10206843397063855_1495148228751087213_nt Sparkler and Icicle, along with some milder varieties for my husband who is not as big a fan of their creep-up-the-back-of-your-nose hotness as I am.  I purchased a “rainbow mix” to grow this year, along with the same of carrots and beets.  I hope to have a very colorful garden this year.

Cherries are usually doing pretty well by this time, too.  Last year we had a problem with some kind of worm getting inside the fruit.  I need to do more research on what they could be so we can be sure to avoid them this year.  You can still use the cherries, it’s just kinda gross cutting the pit out and discarding the worm.  The chickens are happy, though – they get the bruised and otherwise damaged fruit.  We grow a dwarf variety called North Star which are tart and perfect for pies.  Or jams.  Or just eating and puckering up your face.

The chickens start laying again in the spring.  I don’t provide supplemental light so their bodies can rest during the winter.  They spend a lot of energy laying eggs in the summertime and molting in the fall, so I feel they deserve the break.  Spring brings an explosion of egg laying, though.  12885976_10206411646910371_7132103860031662715_o.jpg I have two hens that go broody, which is a condition brought on by hormones that causes them to want to sit on a clutch and raise some babies.  Incubation is 21 days after a period of laying up to twenty eggs, depending on breed.  They don’t lay during this time, but I have seven other girls who will continue to lay, so it’s all good.  The breeds I have lay a variety of colored eggs – everything from a gorgeous blue to green, speckled brown to a smooth, finely textured tan.

221853_1749864946808_1016640_n.jpgSpring also brings out a fungi that is worth it’s weight in gold.  Like I’ve said, I don’t know if they even grow on my property, but I have good friends at work who sometimes share their treasure with us.  I speak of morels.  Driving through the country you will often see trucks and cars parked along the side of the road by a field or a stream with the driver nowhere to be seen.  That person is out hunting these gems.  They can be worth some serious cash if you can find a buyer, which isn’t usually difficult, sometimes going for over eight dollars a pound.

The chives start blooming around this time, too.  We like to add their11060315_10204411304863070_5466732164243744641_n.jpg spicy flowers to salads and decorate deviled eggs with them.  Their purple, star-shaped flowers have an onion taste like the green parts, but with just a hint of sweetness.  I grow them for their flavor, but they are also a very pretty plant with their blueish hue and spiky texture.  These grow in my flower bed, and they look lovely with broad leafed plants and set off the white columbines planted nearby quite nicely.

By June, the garlic I13501704_10207016804758939_5247774945107009932_n.jpg‘d planted the previous fall is about ready.  This year, I will have a harvest of Inchelium Red and Siberian.  The Inchelium is a softneck variety that comes from the Colville Reservation in Washington State and is a very mild garlic that stores for up to nine months, all the while the flavor intensifies.  Siberian is a hardneck variety that is on the spicy side, which we use up pretty fast.  The Siberian grows scapes, which I harvest for cooking.  You can also make a delicious pesto with them.  Some people say that removing the scapes makes for larger bulbs, but I don’t think that is conclusive.  Most of my garlic ends up roasted and spread on toast, or mashed into potatoes, or in tomato sauce.  We use garlic for everything, and usually a lot of it.  When I see a recipe calling for a single clove of garlic, I scoff.  SCOFF.  And then add two to three more cloves.

 

 

Our Lot in Life

As I’ve said before, we live on an ancient coral reef.  The down side to this is that our soil is very rocky.  Very, very rocky.  You can’t put a shovel in the ground anywhere without hitting a very large rock or boulder anywhere on the property.  Most of them are peeking their heads up out of the dirt, but they’re like massive icebergs.  In some places we’ve been able to clear enough of them to dig a garden.  We have yet to discover all of them, though, and some we are aware of will just have to stay for now.

The other downside to our land is the fact that what isn’t rock is heavy clay.  Clay that bakes hard in the summer.  Since we moved in in 2009, we’ve been working on amending the soil in the gardens as we can.  The chickens both help and hinder this effort by producing lovely manure and disassembling the compost heaps.

11193248_10204411329943697_4491829195981641999_n.jpg
The vegetable garden and some of the rocks we’ve pulled out.

Our neighbors are all a bit closer than I would like, but far enough away that I can go outside in my pajamas and not worry about my “modesty”.  I’m not there to impress anyone with my beauty and fashion sense anyway.  I frequently go out to the veggie garden in my bathrobe.  There’s a tear in it from getting it caught on a tomato cage if that tells you anything about how I live my life.

We were not as prepared as we could have been, moving out to the country.  We had exactly one snow shovel when we moved in.  We have at least a two to three hundred feet of driveway which makes for very long days of snow removal, but we could at least take turns and come in to warm our frozen toes.  We have two shovels now, and a blade for the riding lawn mower.  Takes me about forty-five minutes to do it by hand with about four inches of snow on the ground.

20136_1213785905167_8343922_n
BRRRRRRRR

There are many positive things about our house and location.  It’s dark.  So very dark at night you can clearly see the Milky Way in all its glory.  When the neighbors were building their house, they were nice enough to ask if we wanted them to have the electric company set up one of those bright sodium lights while setting up their connection.  When we told them we were amateur astronomers and would prefer no light, they said they also enjoyed the night sky and no light was installed.

It’s very quiet.  We aren’t very far from two different highways and a railroad line, but with the trees all around, the noise is muted.  We are more likely to wake up in the morning to the calls of turkeys, crows, the roosters, or the neighbor’s donkeys instead of traffic and police sirens.  It makes it difficult to sleep when we go up to Chicago to visit my family, and it’s always nice to come home to the silence.  There is nothing better than lying in bed in the dark, listening to the crickets and owls with a cool breeze coming in the window.

I adore the wildlife around my home.  I improved my bird watching skills tenfold in just the first two winters here, even though the White-throated sparrow tricked me for years by being the tan-striped variety.  We put a game block down by the bird feeder and would wake up to many deer munching away with possums, Northern flickers, and the usual chickadees, cardinals, jays, and the other, non-migrating birds.  The summer brings my favorite little friends, the Ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I now have a grand total of seven feeders and they remain busy from about April through October.  The birds can be loud and violent and make some interesting noises, but I love them.

14051741_10207475062015084_8601307964601401639_n
Too many to count.

There is nothing more amazing than looking out your window and seeing a mother turkey and her babies laying in the shade of one of your fruit trees.  Spotting a turkey can be hard enough for me, but seeing babies is like seeing a unicorn.  We had a set of White-tailed deer twins born a few years ago and they continue to cut through the yard to go down into the woods with their own families.  I recognize one of them from the enlarged tarsal gland on her rear right leg.  One day, just as I happened to look out the back window, a bobcat came strolling up out of the woods.  Fresh from the city, I ran to grab my camera and was out the front door before I stopped myself.  What was I going to do, run up to it and try to treat it like a house cat?  Here, kitty kitty, let me take your pretty picture?  Sometimes I get excited and act before I think.

Down through the woods there is a tiny meadow that fills with wildflowers and their heavenly scent in the spring and summer.  In the fall, the sumac turns bright red and looks lovely against the clear blue sky.  In the winter, bittersweet climbs up the naked limbs of the trees, adding a surprising jolt of color.

The five acre pond is man made with a large dam on the east side.  We own the south corner of the pond and the land on the other side.  We have a small john boat, The Sophie, to paddle around in.  We’ve seen that pond low enough to see all the chairs and fishing supplies that have been lost to it over time and so high that we can’t get across to the other side without our boat.  We’ve stocked it with crappie and there is also a population of perch.  There are bullfrogs who will cheerfully chase your fishing lures and whose song can be heard all the way up at the house on a summer’s night.

It’s a gorgeous place to live, even though the lot is narrow and rocky and I can hear my neighbors yelling to their kids.  I can let the clothes dry on the line and watch a bald eagle fly overhead while song birds serenade me.
Clothesline.JPG

Welcome to Fossil Ridge

Join us on our adventures out in the country!

545109_3457702561681_1334275842_n My name is Melissa and I live out in the country in northeast Kansas.  I have five acres, some chickens, some gardens, lots of rocks, two dogs, and a husband.

We decided to leave the college town we lived in and buy a house back when we got married in 2009.  After touring house after house in our price range, we found the one we eventually bought on the cover of a brochure at our realtor’s office.

The house sits on a long, narrow lot that is mostly full of trees.  Part of it is a five acre pond we share with our neighbors to the north.  We’re on top of a ridge created many, many years ago when Kansas was under an inland sea.  Our ridge was a coral reef, and there are so many fossils just sitting on top of the topsoil it’s amazing.  If you see my husband out squatting in the lawn, he’s looking for his favorites, crinoids, and not… well, you know.

Growing up in various large towns and cities my whole life, I was rather ignorant about wild plants and animals.  Now that I live here, I am itching to learn all I can.  I want to identify the edible plants that grow around my home and to know which ones to avoid.  I know mushrooms like the tasty and much desired morel must grow in there somewhere, but don’t really know where to look.  I also want to grow my own food and raise my own animals.  We’ve fought the rocks and clay to lay out vegetable gardens and beat back the grasses to add wildflowers.

We struggle and we triumph.  We invite you to follow our adventures.