Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Spirit of Juniper

When our children were little (and as they grew into their teen years) we would go fishing for a week each year at The Juniper Club with a handful of our dearest friends and their children. It was the perfect place to take a family: nothing fancy, no cell phone or internet service, no TV, only one public telephone in the hallway, no place to spend any money, meals were included and served family style, the kids could be outside all day – fishing and exploring. At night, they worked puzzles, played cards, or went on "bear hunts." Books were read, songs were sung, guns were fired, alligators and owls were spotted. 

Back in the fall, the now-empty-nester parents speculated on how fun it would be to get all the kids back together for a reunion camp this summer. We issued the invitations and then sat back, fully expecting most of the now-grown-children-with-lives-of-their-own, to politely decline, sighting jobs, school, significant others, or generally busy lives as excuses not to come. 

But one by one, they accepted. Yes, they would love to come. Yes, they too thought it would be fun to be together. So on June 16, four sets of parents, one sister, and 14 grown children (including four friends) made their way by car or by plane down to the camp. 

We spent the week doing the same things that we always did: fishing, eating, walking the mile-long gravel drive, shooting clay pigeons, working puzzles late into the night, singing (loudly) the pre-dinner song, and catching up with friends.

Since we were last there as a group, all the kids have graduated from high school, all but two are finished with college, four have graduate degrees or are working on them. And all have turned out to be delightful adults – ones that I would gladly spend a week's vacation with. 

One night at dinner, we flipped through a guest register from the year 2000 and saw where we  caught a total of 66 bass at a one-week camp. This year, the same group caught 425! We laughted, remembering that as parents we were so busy baiting lines and unhooking fish that we rarely put a line in ourselves. Today, each of the children is an accomplished boat driver and fisherperson.

In addition to catching some very large bass, Jack took some beautiful photographs. Here's a look at some of his bird photos.

Osprey landing at nest with fish in claw
Red-shouldered hawk, waiting to swoop down on fish bait.

Soaring eagle
The thing I haven't yet mentioned in this post is that three of the families that came to camp had experienced a recent loss of a loved one. What I hope they found at Juniper was the beginning of a healing from those losses. Just to be among close friends, in the middle of a beautiful natural setting, hoping to reel in a large bass, sleeping soundly, eating well, laughing alot. That's the Juniper Spirit. 

When Skies are Blue

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The War of the Weeds

We were only gone a week. But in that time, my garden went berserk.

The crops grew; but the weeds grew faster. I've spent the better part of this week weed-whipping, hoeing, tilling and finally inching down each row hand-pulling the weeds. I knew if I didn't get them under control now, they would completely take over and all the hard work of planning and planting my garden would be lost. The weeds would win.

It helped that we got a nice rain last night. It made pulling up the weeds and grasses much easier this morning, even if it was a bit muddy. One of my main targets was pigweed. I thought it got its name because the roots are bright pink; but evidently it is because it is often used for pig fodder. Guess I'm glad it's good for something. If only I had pigs....

An upside down view of pigweed. 
I'm not yet done. My plan is to clean up as much of the garden as possible and then put down cardboard, with a thick layer of straw between each row and around the plants. Makes me wish I had a much smaller garden.

On Monday morning I started my weed work in one of the raised beds. The big garden was just too overwhelming. Once I pulled up all the cabbage and kale that had been eaten to the ribs by some mean slugs, I harvested all the beets and carrots. Pulling up the weeds in that small space was pretty easy. I now need to replant the bed with something that likes hot and dry weather. Hmmm...must consult Maggie.

I took a load of pea vines, cabbages, sorrel, kale, and bolted lettuces over to my neighbor. We stood at her fence and fed her long-haired sheep and Beulah, the donkey. It was like a jumbo salad bar and they seemed most appreciative.

Working out on our ping-pong table, I cut the beets from the greens. I washed and spun dry the beet greens and have been sauteeing them for our meals all week. Last night, we had a mess of them with a fried egg on top. I roasted some of the beets, but have plans to can a number of pints to use all year in our salads. Hmmm...must consult Maggie for her red-wine pickled beet recipe.

The carrots are beautiful and taste completely different from the baby ones you get in a plastic bag at Krogers. They taste like, well, like carrots.

I'm done for the day today. It is raining hard outside and there is nothing I like better than a summer rain. I'm just afraid that the weeds will like it too and will use it to boost their growth rate. We'll have to see who wins.

The Wind Began to Switch

Better get under cover. 
There's a storm blowin' up - a whopper, to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry.  
- Professor Marvel, The Wizard of Oz

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Garden Calls (Screams)

Just back from a very fun week of fishing with my beloveds at The Juniper Club. More on it later.

First, I've got to get my garden under control. Gone one week and the weeds took over and the zucchini took off.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Six thick thistle sticks (try saying that six times)

A sign of untidiness and neglect. YIKES! Two weeks ago we were in big trouble -- every field at Farm Dover was thick with thistle sticks. But that was before we started to pull them up by their wicked roots. 

Every single day, we go out to the fields, morning and evening on thistle patrol. I'm guessing we have pulled up at least 5000 thistle weeds. Maybe more. 

With thick leather gloves on, we sneak up on them, pluck off the purple blossoms, toss the blossoms into a bucket, lean down and give a good pull on the base of the thorny plants. If the weed won't budge, we push a spade into the ground, lean back, hold onto the spade with one hand and pull the thistle by the other. Ed and I get into a bit of a rhythm; but I will tell you, after about 500, I need a break!

Even though the blossoms are kind of pretty, here's why we don't like them:
  • The noxious weeds grow up to six feet tall and reproduce through prolific seed production. 
  • Each plant may produce up to 6000 seeds, which are viable in soil for up to nine years. 
  • It is toxic to livestock, due to its accumulation of soil nitrates.  
As of two days ago, we thought we had them all. But that was only for one brief moment in time. A few hours later, a handful poke their purple heads above the Bluestem grass and taunt us. So morning and evening, we ride around the fields in our Polaris, scouting for lone thistles, just daring them to show themselves.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What Did You Do For Fun When You Were 10?...

...and do you still do it?

I've been pondering this question for the last week or so and making a conscious effort to do those things that I remember enjoying as a child. So far for me, it's been about hunting for arrowheads, searching for four-leaf clovers, playing in the woods, cloud watching and eating cookie dough. I've been seriously considering getting a bow and arrow as I used to like to make them from forest branches with kitchen string.

One of my most precious memories as a child was making dolls from hollyhock blossoms. My mom taught me how to take a blossom and a bud and connect them with a toothpick. With these dolls in mind, I bought a small hollyhock plant at the Shelbyville Farmers' Market last summer and planted it in one of the whiskey barrels on the back porch. It grew like crazy, but never blossomed. This spring, it sprouted again and grew as fast as one of Jack's beanstalks. Last week, it began to blossom. Instead of pretty white, or pale pink blossoms, it revealed almost black ones. How cool is that?

So today, I took a minute to create a doll. Mary thought I had lost my mind, but I very much enjoyed creating this little playmate – drawing eyes and a mouth, even adding a small leaf fascinator on her head.

So, I challenge you to remember what you loved most as a child and find a way to do it again. Discover your inner child. That's what summer is all about.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Holy Bat Box!

As a child in the 60s I'm embarrassed to admit that I spent far too many hours sitting in front of a black-and-white TV watching episode after episode of Batman. I thought Batman's side-kick Robin was rather cute and I loved it when he said wacky things like "Holy Amardillo" or "Holy Bikini" or "Holy Fruit Salad." If Batman and Robin came driving up our gravel road in their Batmobile, Robin would surely declare: "Holy Bat Box" when they see the latest edition to Farm Dover.

Ed and I spotted this nifty bat box while we shopped at Rural King last week. This bat house is designed to hold 20-25 brown bats, which can easily catch over 20,000 insects each night. Each bat can consume half its weight in insects each night. Pretty impressive insect control if you ask me.

It's Been a Berry Good Week

There is no such thing as too many strawberries – especially around our house. When they are in season, we eat them daily; for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In all years past, this meant that I spent an inordinate amount of time and energy hunting down local berries – at various farmers' markets, Burger's Supermarket, Doll's Market, Huber's or Gallrein Farms in Shelbyville.

Now, I just have to walk out the door and over to my raised garden beds, lean in, and start picking (and eating).

Yesterday, I went out early and picked a quart or so to share with friends in Louisville; Mary went out later and picked almost a gallon!

In addition to eating them straight from the garden, we've been piling them over shortcakes, topping granola with them, and adding them to salads.

I figure we only have about two more weeks before we have to wait 50 more weeks for the 2014 berries. I'm loving each day. Bring on the berries.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Growing Vision

From day one, I had a clear vision of how I wanted our house to look and feel. What I couldn't quite figure out was how we would leave our imprint on the land. When we bought Farm Dover, it was being farmed, rotating corn and soy beans. Before that, it was a dairy farm.

Fortunately, my partner in this adventure is Ed, who possessed a very clear vision for the land. Before we even broke ground on the house, he met with a wildlife biologist from the Ketnucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to figure out how we could create a healthy wildlife habitat, particularly for quail.

One of the recommendations from the biologist was to eradicate the fescue grass and convert most of the fields to native warm season grasses. We chose to plant Little Bluestem, as it is ideal for quail, providing them with excellent nesting cover while maintaining enough bare ground to allow their chicks to move freely.

Turns out, planting native grasses is tricky work. One must have the right equipment to drill the seed into the ground and the expertise to know how to do it and when to do it. With a bit of calling around, we found our expert: Greg Stephens. Greg interviewed us about what we were trying to accomplish and suggested that we add some specific wildflower seeds to the native grass mix. Last summer, he planted most of our fields with Little Bluestem mixed with Black-eyed Susans, False Sunflowers, Greyheaded Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Partridge Pea, Butterfly Milkweed and Lance-Leaved Coreopsis. With this wildflower mix, one or more of the varieties would be blooming from May through October.

It took a full season for the plantings to get established. Last summer was hot and dry and not much was happening out in the fields. I was beginning to wonder if they were supposed to look like they did -- and if so, what was all this fuss about native grasses/wildflowers?

I want to show you how our fields look today. It just takes my breath away. It is acres and acres of the most beautiful yellow Coreopsis.

The quail love it; mornings and evenings we hear them calling bob white back and forth. The bees are buzzing all over the place. The red-winged blackbirds rise up from and dive down into the grasses, as they fly to and fro from their nests. The gold finch perch on the slender flower stems. Millions of fireflies at dusk stage a magical show, put on just for my entertainment.

I can't wait to see what comes up next.