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home kitchen garden

Wordless Wednesday Wabbit

 

future garden plants and food for my table

 

It’s autumn! Granted, we’re a month past peak leaf-peeping season, but winter is still more than a month away. Happily, I didn’t let peak season slip past; I spent several hours across many days capturing autumn scenes in Pennsylvania farm country. The collection here represents my neighborhood at its best: rolling farmland that blends with undeveloped countryside.

autumn colors at dusk

A clump of trees along Route 15, Lewisburg’s “major” highway, burned every shade from yellow to red, and caught the last rays of sunlight on a gorgeous evening in late October.

colorful treeline and meadow

I favor evening light for landscape photography mostly because I’ve become a night owl going to bed just a few hours before sunrise. A scene as basic as a view across a farm field gone wild dances with light, shadow, and textures in the reddened sunlight near dusk.

nearly dusk over the farm

Pretty sure the field in this photo holds corn stubble. The farmer harvested mature corn plants when leaves were green and ears were beginning to dry. The harvesting machine chopped up the plants, and the farmer stored the resulting mulch-like material either in a silo, or in a heap on the ground. Cows love corn plants and are happy to eat them fresh, or fermented — and fermentation is a key factor in making silage. Just as we might ferment vegetables to preserve them for storage (think sauerkraut which is fermented cabbage), fermenting shredded corn plants preserves them so they’ll last through the winter. Silage exposed to air spoils, so a farmer must draw off the top three or four inches each day and feed it to livestock.

farm road through the corn in autumn

An overgrown gravel drive leads into a stand of trees surrounded by a field of corn. This is feed corn. The farmer leaves it to dry until the kernels are hard — just like the corn seed you plant in your garden. Machines can harvest and shuck the ears, or they can harvest, shuck, and remove the corn from the cobs. Cows, horses, and other farm animals are happy to eat the dried corn – with or without the cobs.

farms everywhere

Most farms in central Pennsylvania began as family homesteads. Each is within reasonable walking distance of neighboring farms, so from high ground you can see dozens of barns and farm houses scattered across the landscape.

skeleton of a dead tree against a hillside of fall colors

In direct, late afternoon autumn sun, a hedgerow pops behind a farmer’s feed corn crop.

You can find a slideshow that includes these images and more at Your Small Kitchen Garden blog. Follow this link.
 

the fence to my home kitchen garden is open
Fence repairs I completed in the spring restored a barrier impenetrable to rabbits, skunks, raccoons, and woodchucks (unless they decide to climb). One evening, I left a fence panel open for an hour and 45 minutes. Did rodents chow down on my tender garden vegetables? Not exactly …

I’m working in my home kitchen garden. It’s a gorgeous day and I string up a dozen or more tomato plants before I head in to prepare dinner. My plan is to return after dinner and pull the lettuce plants to make way for sweet potatoes; the lettuce has bolted and we’re not going to harvest more of it this season.

So, I leave one panel of my rodent fence open. This provides a four-foot long entrance through a 92 foot perimeter. I’ll be away for an hour or two. A critter that discovers the opening in that amount of time isn’t likely to do much damage before I return.

After Dinner Rabbit Revelation

Cooking, serving, and eating dinner takes about an hour and a half after which I head straight out to my vegetable garden. It amuses me to see a rabbit on the hill about 12 feet from my garden fence; there’s often one there and sometimes two. I’m far less amused to see a second rabbit standing beneath one of my tomato plants.

OK, a rabbit got into the garden. It would take just a moment to scare it out through the open fence panel. But this rabbit doesn’t look scared. In fact, this rabbit looks like it has a tad extra rabbit stuck to its right front leg. As I lean in for a closer look—and we’re talking about eight feet between me and the rabbit—she hops away to the back fence of the garden and freezes, now 14 feet separates us.

Rabbit Mommy moved her brood into my home kitchen garden
While I prepared and ate dinner, Rabbit Mommy found the opening in my garden fence, carried three bunny babies inside, dug a nest under a tomato plant, and paused to nurse her spawn. That’s what she was doing when I spotted her. When I leaned in for a close look, she disengaged from her runtling and hopped to the back of the garden.

But! During the rabbit’s first hop, I noticed that the “tad extra rabbit” I’d seen was a bunny. There are now three bunny faces sticking out of the lawn clipping mulch I’d spread earlier around the tomato plants. There was an unmistakable bulge in the mulch that someone had excavated to build a nest.

Never So Many Rabbits So Quickly

In past years I’ve reported about rabbits reproducing in my home kitchen garden. I really don’t mind when they do that. This is altogether not that! Rabbit Mommy and her three rabbit puppies had not been in my garden when I broke for dinner. I had pounded around among the tomato plants: tying strings to the trellises, wrapping strings around stems, pulling weeds … if the nest had been there, I’d have stomped on rabbit puppies.

In the scant two hours I’d been away, Rabbit Mommy had carried her brood into the garden, hollowed out a nest in the mulch, and moved in! I returned from dinner while Rabbit Mommy was serving up dinner to her offspring.

Rabbit Love

I’m starting to believe that rabbits in my neighborhood covet my kitchen garden not for the food it produces, but for the security that the rodent fence provides. The rabbits have learned that if they’re inside that fence, the only critter likely to bother their babies is me, and I’m a softie. They pass this information down from one generation to the next.

I suspect this rabbit family settled near my raised vegetable bed and waited to pounce. The first time I left a fence panel open, they moved in. The bunnies are already old enough that they could wander around on their own so I suspect they’ll move out soon. I’ll keep watch and when I’m certain they’re no longer in the garden, I’ll close up the narrow gap I left in the fence just for them. With luck, I’ll keep Rabbit Mommy from hatching a new gaggle (in my garden) later this season.

Rabbits that hang out near my home kitchen garden
I see rabbits several times a week around my home kitchen garden. From the photos you might also be able to tell that I don’t mow the lawn a whole lot. Note that the rabbit in the bottom-right photo is sitting on the edge of my rhubarb patch (which is the front edge of my herb garden).

More of my posts about rabbits:

Mid-Summer Rabbits in my Small Kitchen Garden

Sixty Rabbits from Your Small Kitchen Garden

hyacinth up the road from my home kitchen garden

Hyacinths sprouted along the road—I suppose that in some past season, a neighbor pulled the flowers from their yard and tossed them toward the woods but missed. The plants have put on quite a show this spring, and I love the surreal textures and colors a camera captures with tight focus.

My home kitchen garden is well on its way which is weird because our last frost date is around May 23. With all the crazy warmth of late winter, perennials are weeks early and my soil is dry… seriously: it’s alarmingly free of moisture. So, for what I’ve planted, I’m watering regularly and looking forward to getting some mulch in place to help conserve what little water there is.

Because of the early start to the season, I feel casual toward the vegetable beds. I ignored them today and, to celebrate Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, I took Nutmeg for a walk capturing blossoms along the way. There are so many gorgeous displays in the neighborhood that I ended up cutting them into a movie (at the end of this post) rather than putting each one on this web page. If you feel so moved, please have a look. The video is three and a half minutes long and features scenes you’d see if you came with me for a walk where I live.

Photos accompanying this post are from my neighborhood as well.

Participate in Post Produce

While I enjoy Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, I always feel a bit out of place. My blogs are about growing produce and preparing it for meals. So, in the spirit of Bloom Day, I’ve started Post Produce.

On the 22nd of each month—one week after Bloom Day—prepare a post about produce from your plot. Then, find my Post Produce post, and link to yours just as you link to your Bloom Day post from Carol’s blog, May Dreams Gardens. Here’s more about Post Produce. It’s great to see the goodies other gardeners are growing!

pear blossoms in my home kitchen garden

The pear trees I planted back in 2008 continue to look strong. They’ve thrown a lot of delicate pink blossoms against gorgeous purple foliage. After a similar display last year, the trees set no fruit, so my expectations are low. These started as bare root trees, and I understand it can take three or four years before they start producing. Though I planted them in 2008, I did so in autumn, so I have to start counting from 2009—the first growing season they spent with me. That gives me some hope they’ll fruit this year, but next year seems more likely.

ornamental cherry blossoms near my home kitchen garden

I’ve featured this ornamental cherry tree in several blog posts over the years. The flowers are sensational, and the cherries attract all kinds of birds. Occasionally in late winter, a flock of titmice spends a few days picking the dried cherries. Shortly after I made this photo, a robin landed near me with a dried cherry it had just plucked off the tree. The tree stands at the end of my neighbor’s driveway and hangs over my yard. I hope it stays there as long as I live in this house.

wildflowers bloom near my home kitchen garden

Trees are maturing in the meadow where I pick black raspberries each spring. I noticed this one blossom last season, but didn’t see what fruit it produced. Perhaps it produced none. I’ll keep an eye on it this year as well… there may be jelly in its future.

Nutmeg the dog at my home kitchen garden

Who wanted a walk? Nutmeg did! Sure, and she loves you. Ok, she hasn’t met you yet, but she’s convinced that everyone she meets is her best friend. Her enthusiasm can be hazardous to your health, so approach with caution if you see us around the neighborhood.

The Bloom Day Dog Walk Video:


an Amish Home Kitchen Garden

Over the years, Your Home Kitchen Garden blog has presented some of the topics I wrote about in my book, Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry it, Too. Brenda Haas talked with me about it on a special live broadcast of #gardenchat from the Garden Writers Association Symposium. Here Brenda speaks with a representative of Corona Tools.

While my home kitchen garden deteriorated from neglect (and nasty elements), I spent a week at the Garden Writers Association annual symposium. There, I had the great pleasure to meet Brenda Haas whom I’d known for more than a year on Twitter, but had never met in person.

Brenda manages a weekly online conversation called #gardenchat. At 9 PM EST on Mondays, gardening enthusiasts log on to Twitter and post questions and comments, creating dozens of wild, intersecting conversations. I always enjoy #gardenchat, even when the subject is ornamental plants, and it’s a great privilege to know its curator.

The #gardenchat Special

Brenda had scheduled a special #gardenchat broadcast to take place at the Garden Writer’s conference. For this, she did a series of interviews using Ustream.tv, and they went out live while a tweetup of garden enthusiasts took place in the next room. I was one of the interviewees!

The Youtube video embedded in this post is a big chunk of the conversation I had with Brenda at the conference. There’s a lot of background noise because there was a party in the adjacent room, but you can hear our conversation if you like. We talk about several of the topics I wrote about in Yes, You Can!

 

 

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young front yard home kitchen garden

The homeowners here make no apologies; they planted a home kitchen garden in their front yard, so live with it. I’m glad I live in a community where food plants don’t offend people’s tastes.

There has been a lot of fuss recently about turning front yards into home kitchen gardens and I’ve been making a lot of it:

  • I was happy to report in April about Ivette Soler’s, The Edible Front Yard, a book that encourages its readers to replace their useless lawns with home kitchen gardens that both look good and produce food.
  • I posted in early July about the nonsensical government of Oak Park Michigan prosecuting Julie Bass for growing vegetables in her front yard.
  • Most recently, I railed during a radio interview about the crime we’ve committed against our planet by planting lawns in every yard, and I explained my plan to replace my lawn with food. (The interview wasn’t yet in the archives when I wrote this post, but it should be there soon.)

During these months, I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of a new garden that appeared this spring in my neighborhood. Yep: it’s in a front yard. We walk past it occasionally on family walks with the dog, and I’ve watched the plants grow from seedlings into young adults. It warms my heart and I hope the homeowners expand their planting bed in the coming years.

maturing front yard home kitchen garden

Perhaps six weeks after I shot the earlier photo, I captured my neighbor’s home kitchen garden growing strong. Someone is going to have a lot of tomatoes to deal with, and that’s way more awesome than having to deal with a useless lawn.

 

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an Amish Home Kitchen Garden

Near the farm stand and looking back toward the main road, you see a home kitchen garden of staggering proportions. A single Amish family plants and maintains this garden to feed itself and to stock the farm stand. I’m sure they spend an enormous amount of time cold-storing, canning, drying, and pickling produce to keep it through Pennsylvania’s cold winters.

My home kitchen garden is off to a horrible start this season on account of endless rain we experienced until mid May. I wasn’t able to plant anything because my garden soil was saturated. Seedlings I’d started indoors became leggy and weak, and I ended up planting lettuce on my deck rather than in my garden. Of course, just when the lettuce leafed-up, the rain stopped and temperatures soared into the 90s (Fahrenheit).

So, with my lettuce bitter and bolting, my brassicas failing, and my tomatoes and chili peppers still getting used to being in a garden rather than in seed-starting planters, strawberry season is upon us.

My Strawberry Panic

I grow enough strawberries for a bowl of cereal. So, I rely on local farmers to grow strawberries for me. As in every year, when the first local strawberries appeared at the farmers’ market, I cooked up strawberry shortcake and we had only that for dinner one night. Then life got in the way.

furrows in an Amish Home Kitchen Garden

You might be able to see slight depressions in the soil rows between the plant rows. This furrow reflects the action of horse-powered tilling. A horse can walk these soil rows, pulling tools that turn the soil and prevent weeds from getting established.

For two weeks, I had no time to process produce, and I feared strawberry season was slipping away. In fact, produce vendors at the local flea market had no local strawberries last Sunday, so by Monday I had worked up a lather about having missed out. I went in search of a farmer (with a farm stand) selling strawberries.

Believe it or Don’t

Where would you go if you hoped to find a farm stand with fresh berries? My thought: Amish Road. I’m not kidding (my son thought I was kidding); we live within about five miles of Amish Road. And… Amish Road runs through an area where several Amish families have farms.

The first farm stand I found was one road over from Amish Road, and it had strawberries. But strawberries quickly became a secondary issue for me. The farm stand sat behind a roadside home kitchen garden that would make most kitchen gardeners green with envy. Of course, an Amish family may grow enough produce to eliminate their reliance on grocery stores… and this family grows enough to feed themselves and to sell to passersby.

the house sits behind the home kitchen garden

That house at the far end of the kitchen garden isn’t the Amish family’s house. The white building on the left edge of this photo is where the Amish family lives. The farm stand is across the driveway from the front door of the house—I suspect so the family can work inside and emerge quickly when a car drives up to the stand.

The woman running the farm stand pleasantly told about hassles the rains had caused for them, and graciously gave me permission to photograph the garden plot. I couldn’t do the kitchen garden justice! It was at least 200 yards from one end of the garden to the other, and about 75 yards from side-to-side.

Simple Strategies for a Large Kitchen Garden

My photos reveal that the vegetable-to-weed ratio in an Amish home kitchen garden favors the vegetables. The reasons are simple:

  • Rows between vegetables are wide and a horse can easily walk there without stepping on the plants. So, periodically, the farmer hooks a horse up to a cultivator and the horse drags the cultivator along the rows.
  • Rows are very long. This lets a horse get up some speed while dragging its cultivator and it doesn’t have to make a whole bunch of quick turns. There’s poetic simplicity in being able to weed a year’s worth of peas in a single pass.
  • Mulch keeps the weeds down with almost no effort. In this case, the farmer laid down a long sheet of plastic and poked holes through it for onion sets. The onions have grown up through the holes while the plastic has smothered whatever weeds might have taken root.
bringing in hay

While I was shopping for strawberries, the Amish farmer was harvesting hay. It was an awesome load, and I couldn’t resist snapping a photo.

I love this kitchen garden and I admire the energy and intensity its Amish owners must have to plant it and maintain it each year.

 

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Neck Pumpkin from Your Small Kitchen Garden

The big squash is a neck pumpkin that grew in my home kitchen garden in 2010. The small squash is a homegrown butternut squash for the sake of comparison. Yes: seeds from that neck pumpkin may reach you by mail in February if you hop over to Your Small Kitchen Garden and sign up according to instructions there.

Your Home Kitchen Garden’s sister blog, Your Small Kitchen Garden is giving away food! Food? OK, it’s giving away seeds from which you can grow food. The promotion started a few days ago and runs until February 13, 2011.

Seeds for Your Home Kitchen Garden

Neck pumpkin, Pennsylvania Dutch Crook Necked Squash, Long-necked squash… get them all through the Small Kitchen Garden giveaway. Actually, these are all names for the same squash. Plants are very resistant to Squash Vine Borer and they produce fruits that resemble butternut squash only generally much larger. In fact, I’ve seen neck pumpkins that weighed more than 20 pounds!

Neck pumpkins are common in central Pennsylvania, but I’ve never seen them in other states. When you buy a neck pumpkin at a Pennsylvania farmers’ market or a farm stand, there’s a pretty good chance the farmer will ask, “Making pie?”

probably an andes tomato from Your Small Kitchen Garden

I pick tomatoes before they ripen. This one is probably an Andes Horn paste tomato. Minimally, it’s an heirloom paste tomato that tastes great raw or cooked. It’s mostly meat, nearly seed-free, and in my experience is hardier than some other popular varieties of tomatoes. Get 20 or more seeds to grow some of your own by visiting Your Small Kitchen Garden and signing up according to instructions there.

I’ve used neck pumpkin in pies, and I’ve also served it in all the ways I serve butternut squash. Butternut squash is a tad smoother and it has a richer flavor, but neck pumpkin tastes just fine.

My neck pumpkins grew to about 12 pounds this year, but the seeds I planted came from a 20 pound behemoth. The giveaway includes enough seeds from one of my neck pumpkins for you to plant at least one hill of squash.

Andes Tomatoes from Your Home Kitchen Garden

Also in this year’s giveaway are seeds from my crop of Andes paste tomatoes. I don’t know for sure that my tomatoes are of the Andes variety, but they match descriptions I’ve read and they look identical to photos of Andes. I started with seeds from some tomatoes a neighbor gave me, and the seeds I’m giving away came from my second year’s harvest.

blue hubbard squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden

Supposedly the model for the alien pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, blue hubbard squash can look quite gnarly. I’ll dissect this modest blue hubbard over the weekend so seeds have time to dry out before I mail them in February. You can get some of the seeds from this squash to plant in your kitchen garden. Visit Your Small Kitchen Garden Seed Giveaway to learn how.

I love these tomatoes. They are indeterminate and have performed extremely well in my garden… and they taste terrific.

Blue Hubbarb Squash

The blue Hubbard squash is among the most beautiful of squashes. It’s exotic, and you might even feel that a whole fruit is ugly. However, the meat of a blue Hubbard runs from blue/green toward the skin, to yellow toward the center of the fruit. It’s gorgeous.

The meat is also delicious, having a squashier flavor than butternut; I like blue Hubbard for my pumpkin pies and other baked goods, but it would be terrific mashed, grilled, or baked.

 

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christmas cactus flower at your home kitchen garden

I don’t mean to mislead in the post’s main text; there are actually more than a dozen blossoms on my Christmas cactus. This shot captured just one blossom aglow with sunlight against the backdrop of my kitchen garden under snow.

It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (read about it on Carol’s blog over at May Dreams Gardens), and my Home Kitchen Garden is under snow. When I limit my definition of “garden” to that plot of land where I plant stuff in the spring, I have nothing to share on this winter Bloom Day. However, I’ve always defined my garden as the entire collection of plants that I tend—wherever they may be.

So, this bloom day, as did Carol on her blog, I present my Christmas Cactus. This plant started as a cutting from my daughter’s cactus back in summer of 2008. So far, the only care it has received is watering. Oh, and I turn the pot from time-to-time. It’s kind of a practical joke. I imagine the plant when sunlight comes through the window the next day: “Hey! I thought I had my leafy stemmy things all pointing in the right direction, and now this?”

I love that you can see the anti-rodent fence that surrounds my vegetable bed in the background of the photo… and snow on the ground in front of it. The snow provides insulation for a thick layer of autumn leaves my kids raked onto the soil. The leaves will break down a little quicker now that there’s snow on them.

While there are no other flower blossoms in my home kitchen garden in January, I snuck in two other photos that were begging for attention. I hope you enjoy them.

 

pampas grass at your home kitchen garden

All I know about the names of ornamental plants I learned from designing golf courses for the old Mean 18 game back in the 1980s and 90s. Drawing on that extensive education, I can say with authority that I have always liked pampas grass… and this stand of it looks pretty awesome even so far into winter. If it’s not pampas grass, please drop a note to Accolade, the company that produced Mean 18.

 

ornament at your home kitchen garden

The sun sometimes streams through our living room window in late afternoon. One day last week (I know: not a true Bloom Day photo), it lit up this handmade ornament, and I captured a few shots. This one makes me think of flowers in someone else’s garden. Today I stowed the ornaments in the garage and started thinking seriously about spring gardening. Still 2 months before I should start seeds. Sigh.

 

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