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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Fall, a sensory explosion

The maple tree in the front yardOur street is lined with maples. This time of year the maples light up the street with brilliant hues ranging from the deep green of spring to the late autumn electric red that seems to catch fire when the sun sets.

Even better is the woody, earthy smell that gets kicked up when the wind rolls the leaves across the front yard.  I plan on introducing Eli to the joy of running full speed  and diving head first into a huge pile of leaves.

Aaah, it’s nice to be home.

More fall colorsClose up of the maple

Eli’s First Camping Trip

Hiking in Linn Run State ParkWe took Eli on his camping trip a few weeks ago. We originally were thinking of doing a short section of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. The idea was to do some ‘slackpacking‘. This is the lazy man’s version of backpacking. There are a few variants of this method, but essentially you do some backpacking without carrying a pack. You can drive ahead and drop your packs at your sleeping destination. Then you drive back to the starting point and spend the day hiking to your packs. Viola, nice day in the woods without lugging a backpack. The next day you hike back to your car, then drive back and pick up your packs. The other variants involve a second car, a helper with a car, or some hitchhiking .

We are big fans of the Laurel Higlands Hiking Trail and wanted to sleep in one of their shelter areas, but didn’t feel like dealing with the hassle of spotting a car and dropping off packs and so on. In the end we decided to spend the day hiking around Linn Run State Park, which is right next to the LHHT, and had lunch at Wolf Rocks. There is a beautiful view from the rocks and it is a perfect spot for a meal/break.

On the way back to the car we found a beautiful bog with lots of fascinating flora. After collecting the packs we found the LHHT hiked along it to the Turnpike Shelters. Aptly named because of their semi-close proximity to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. After a nice meal, Parke’s dad crashed out in the shelter and Parke, Eli and I slept in the tent. Suprisingly we didn’t see anyone on the trail or at the shelter area. It was amazingly quiet and dark at night. I managed to spook myself a bit when I woke up at night and couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

We all had a wonderful time and are glad to be back to hiking in the woods on a regular basis. Hopefully we’ll be able to go for another overnight during the first week of September.

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