Spring is (finally) springing

Today was a weird and wonderful spring day…we took the boys and dogs up to Sugarloaf for some sledding(!) and then came home and worked in the garden. It’s not often you get both of those activities in on a single day. Sledding was a blast…nice to have been able to go without layers and layers of clothing on. Oliver wondered if we would still have hot chocolate afterwards, but then thought maybe that lemonade might be more appropriate. In the garden, Eli got the onions planted, and the lettuce that Blue has been planting weekly in the greenhouse is looking and tasting great.

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Grapes, grapes, grapes

To say the grapes were successful this year would be an epic understatement. Last year, we had 2 clusters with maybe 2 or 3 grapes on each. This year, there are clusters apon clusters….huge things absolutely loaded with grapes. I’d be completely overwhelmed at this point trying to deal with the bumper crop, were it not for a fortuitous discovery…grape juice in a jar. A friend of my mom and dad told them about this trick…instead of the long process of squeezing, and skinning, and filtering….you just throw a cup of grapes in a quart jar, add sweetener (anywhere from nothing up to a cup of sugar) and fill with boiling water. Process the jars and set aside…in a couple of weeks you’ll have quarts of grape juice that need only to be strained before serving. Brilliant and so easy!

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Mmmm, peas.

We have a bumper crop of peas coming in. Everyone helped to liberate them from their pods.

Garden Bounty

This spring, we weren’t sure how much of a garden we would have going at the Anthill. Late last year, we decided to put in some raised beds, but only managed to get one built before the ground froze. So before we could do any gardening, we had to build beds in which to put the plants. Not an easy project, as the ground took a while to warm up. And our time down in Confluence is limited, we have so many adventures we need to find time for, and building several gigantic beds takes a long long time, and yadda, yadda, yadda…. We also wanted to experiment with several different mulching and watering systems, so we really thought this year would be more of a learning year. Lots of experience, maybe not so much production.

Boy, were we wrong…

As you can see from the photos, we have had a bumper crop of veggies and flowers this year.  The photos below show the results of one harvesting session.  There have been several others with similar yields.  With all this produce comes the need to DO something with it, so it’s been a busy summer of cooking and food preservation.  We’ve canned, frozen, pickled, jammed, dehydrated, fermented and eaten fresh.  This past week was filled with outstandingly delicious food that we either produced ourselves, or picked up on one of our  “Taste of Pennsylvania Country Ramble” trips.  (Oh, and by the way, yes, there was a second ramble.  I’ll have to post about that later. )  We had pot roast made with local Angus beef, served with home grown carrots and green beans.  And homemade bread.  And corn on the cob, fresh from the garden.  And more homemade bread with strawberry jam (from our garden strawberries) and with raw honey from another nearby farm.  And pickles, straight from the crock (which has been lending a lovely pickle smell to the house since the fermentation kicked into high gear). And saurkraut from the other crock.  Elderberry wine, found on one of our rambles.  And fresh milk and cheese, from another.  I could go on and on, but I will stop here because I am making myself hungry and it’s far too late…I should be sleeping and not snacking.

Another highlight of the garden has been the flowers.  I will take absolutely no credit for these- the flowers are strictly Blueberry’s department.  My only job when it comes to the flowers is to cut them and bring them into the house.  And it’s actually quite a hard job with all the flowers to choose from…. this week it was mostly zinnias and sunflowers, which are peaking right now.  I did one arrangment with some hosta flowers which I was surprised to discover have a really nice scent.  It’s not strong enough that I ever noticed outside, but once I brought the flowers in, you could really smell them.  I also had a vase of dill flowers out in the living room which made it smell pleasantly herby  (and went perfectly with the pickle smell drifting in from the kitchen)

Which is not to say that all has been perfect in the garden this year.  Our potato crop was pitifully small.  We had purchased seed potatoes 3 or 4 years ago, and every year since we had just replanted the leftover potatoes from the previous year’s harvest.  Which tended to be the teeny, tiny ones.  Which may not have been the smartest strategy, as this year we planted the teeniest potatoes of all (so small I just planted them whole, rather than cutting them into pieces), and got the teeniest harvest ever.  I think it’s time to pony up for a new batch of seed potatoes in the spring.

The other problem was the arrival of the dreaded late blight.  Luckily, the potatoes were spared, else our teeny harvest would have not existed at all.  But the tomatoes got it, and fairly badly.  We were lucky in that Blueberry got on the problem fairly quickly, pruning back dead leaves, and spraying with an (organic) anti-blight spray.  That was enough to put a halt to the spread of the blight, and the fruit on the plants was thankfully undamaged.  So our tomato bed is rather ugly looking, with scrawny, nearly bare plants with only the top sets of leaves remaining.  But the tomatoes are still delicious, so who cares about pretty looking plants?

All and all, I have to say this year’s garden has been the best ever..and it’s still going!  Right before we left this weekend we pulled out the cucumber vines and replanted their area with some peas, in hopes of getting a fall crop.  I think we’ll try and get some lettuce and spinach in too.  And then it will be time to put the garden to bed for the winter, head inside, and spend our time pouring over seed catalogs and dreaming of next year…..

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