Today I woke up to snow. So, of course, it is time to plan the garden! This annual planning of the garden could not arrive at a better time of the year. The holidays, and all that planning, is behind me with a long blank calendar ahead of me. I am trapped inside with depressingly cold, windy, and gray weather keeping me from venturing outdoors. I am longing for long sunny days, and I am not even halfway through winter. But alas, those bright, colorful, catalogs have arrived in the mail and today it is time to start ordering because next month, believe it or not, I will start planting seedings in the greenhouse. A smile brightens my face and settles in my heart. It’s garden planning time! (a.k.a. I just might survive another winter!)Continue reading “2022 Garden Part One: Garden Journal”
Fresh fruit makes the simplest dessert and is that perfect sweet ending to any meal.
We always look forward to the early summer garden with fresh corn-on-the-cob and tomatoes bursting in bright vivid colors. But there’s really something to be said about the early fall garden. For us here in Central Illinois that’s when our “orange” fruits and vegetables ripen giving us big beautiful pumpkins, the sweetest sweet potatoes, plump carrots, and a personal favorite, juicy sweet fruits like redhaven peaches and cantaloupe. It’s the cantaloupe that is highlighted in this fruit dessert.
Cantaloupe is perfect sliced in wedges and eaten plain, but if you want to elevate the flavors cut the fruit into melon balls and mix them with freshly grated ginger and a drizzle of sage honey. That peppery tang in the fresh ginger just hits the tongue in the most delightful way and changes the cantaloupe giving it a more dynamic flavor. Then the sage honey comes in with a sweet, clover-like flavor and tames the ginger. But what really brings it all together is the floral undertones in all three of the ingredients. The flavors explode in your mouth and then come together in a gentle swaying dance.
Just use a light hand with both the ginger and honey. Fresh ginger can be very potent and can overtake the more mellow cantaloupe. You know the rule: you can always add more, but you cannot take it away.
I have wanted a greenhouse for as long as I can remember. Probably not for the reasons you may think. I wanted a greenhouse to ease my guilt. Every year I go out and I buy quite a few ferns and then come fall I watch them curl up and die away. It’s heart wrenching to watch. I am not sure I can fully explain how much pain this brings to my soul. It’s slow and agonizing and if it was an animal, I’d put it out of its misery. I have tried saving them indoors, but they shed, a lot, and I go from feeling sorry for them to wanting to kill them with my bare hands. So a large part of wanting a greenhouse is to save the ferns.
It has taken me a few years to get to this point, to actually build one. A lot of thought had to go into the schematics first (more on that later). My husband and I had to finish arguing over the size, the material, the practicality, etc. Compromises had to be reached, hurt feelings had to be mended, but we did it. I have a greenhouse and I love it!
The Foundation and Walls:
Made from of 4″ x 8″ x 16″ Solid Blocks and pressure treated green boards. A heads up: pretreated boards need to dry before you can paint. Test the wood for moisture before you paint. Drizzle some water on boards if the water beads up the wood is dry enough to paint. Unfortunately, this can take up to 1 – 3 months depending on the elements. I would also suggest using an acrylic-based latex primer before painting. The primer provides a canvas for the paint, eliminating the need for multiple coats of paint.
Made from white vinyl barn sashes and a winterized storm door. I purchased square trim and cut it into 1/4″ strips and fitted that around the windows, inside and out, for a custom frame. We wanted the greenhouse to conform to the other sites on the farm. Therefore, we used leftover siding from the barn for the walls and sprayed the inside wall with foam insulation to keep that warmth come the dark days of winter.
Since the greenhouse is on the smaller side, 8′ x 10′, I need to maximize all the space. I am doing this by adding repurposed brick, from the chimney we torn down when renovating the farmhouse, for the flooring. This will allow me to use the floor for additional plants. The cracks in the brick will also allow and excess water to drain properly.
I added O-hooks to the rafters and threaded a wire through it which will give me ceiling space to hang planters.
I installed a work shelf on one side which will be reserved for heating mats, seedings, and pot shelves on the other which only come out 12-inches keeping the space a little roomier.
The Final Project:
I cannot leave without pointing out that the I in t(his) story is really he. My husband took the saw out of my hands (shrug) and only allowed me to screw a few nuts and bolts in place. Therefore, all the building glory goes to him. After renovating three homes and a zillion home projects we both know our places: I’m the eye, he’s the muscle.
It’s late August and the summer heat is intense. Today will be the first day back to school and I’m certain we are looking at a short day. My husband and I are up early. There are chores to be done before we wake the children. I slide on my wellies and step outside and there’s my husband waving his arms over his head. Great, now what?
“Call the vet! Eli isn’t getting up.” Eli is our newest addition, the littlest calf in the barn, and my favorite. I call the vet and run out to the barn. A helpless animal is my Achilles’ heel. I cannot let him stay there alone in pain so I send my husband into the house to handle the kids while I sit down in the straw and hold Eli’s head in my lap. Twenty minutes later the vet arrives, the kids come in to say goodbye whether to me or Eli I am not sure. The vet gives Eli a shot and waits, shaking his head. He is concerned because Eli hasn’t gotten up yet. He cautions me that it looks like the worst case scenario and I should prepare myself. I continue holding Eli determined to give him as much love as I can. If these are his last hours I want them to be good hours.
Only these were not Eli’s last hours. About an hour later Eli stated to perk up. I bottle fed him encouraging him to get up and walk around. Thirty minutes later he walks to the doorway and with a look back at me, as if to say thank you, he walks out into the pasture to be with his friends. I wish I could tell you Eli lived out his life right here on the farm, but that is not how it works on a farm. I can tell you that while our animals are with us they are given love and care.
Finally I am home from work and we are gathered in the kitchen. Country kitchens are the heart of any farm house. I am at the stove and the kids are gathered around the island doing homework and talking about their day. The hubbie has been sent out to the garden to pull fresh herbs and tomatoes needed to complete the meal and in the process lets the dog in who starts to chase the cat around the room. I jump to avoid stepping on the cat and the rug slips out from under my feet. I am going down. Then a pair of strong arms catch me and I am being gently brought back to my feet. My hubbie, my hero!
One of the kids looks out the large window facing the pasture and announces Sport got out again. We all sigh with relief that it is the horse that got out as a brown sugar pop-tart will have him following us right back into the barn. If it was a cow we could be out there for awhile as we have yet to find what can tempt a cow more than fresh grass on the other side. The cow, a large ungraceful beast, can and will contort its body into awkward positions to taste a mouthful of tall grass under the fence line. So, when the gate opens to an awesome world of emerald green grass, well it is cow heaven.
On the way back to the kitchen we have to stop and discipline Daisy, the Shetland Pony, who is the only one that knows how to pop her tiny little head upward unleashing the door latch. Daisy, as sweet as her name sounds, is pure evil. Anyone who has every had a Shetland Pony can tell you that what they lack in statue they more than make up for in attitude.
The dishes are done, baths are over, kids are tucked into bed. We step outside and sit on the porch swing, a glass of white wine in hand, and listen to the locusts sing us into fall. I turn to my husband and smile. “Thank goodness today was a quiet one.” He smiles, because as farm days go, it was a relatively sane day.
Today the kids are grown and the animals are gone, but my heart is filled with farm memories.
There are times when I still miss the city, okay I miss pizza delivery really, but today is not one of them. I am outside stretching my limbs. I am enjoying the warmth of the sun beating down on my face and soaking up the heat with temps currently a balmy 80°F. My garden gloves are packed with potting soil, seed packets lay empty around me, and all that is left is trudging through 10” inches of snow to fill the watering can.
That is the wonder of a greenhouse. Snow can be swirling around the glass panes with artic temperatures that register a whopping 9°F, but inside it’s Maui. This is my happy place. There is just something about working in the greenhouse in February that cries eternal optimism with a side of profound belief that tomorrow is sure to come with April showers and May flowers.
For the next few months, the temperature in the greenhouse will need to be carefully monitored. The sun normally warms the greenhouse effectively during the day, when the sun is shining, but drops drastically at night. Seedling heat mats are a must. I use a temperature probe that continuously monitors the soil temps and keeps it at a recommended 70° – 80°F. I usually split the difference and keep the soil at an even 75°F.
As the days grow longer and the sun stronger, I worry less about night temps and instead start monitoring the temperature inside the greenhouse. It is important to equip the greenhouse with a fan attached to a sensor that will kick on when the temperature starts to tip over 95°F to allow proper venting.
Deciding when to start seedlings in the greenhouse will not only depend on what you are planting, but on the seed itself. Pay attention to the germination on the package and plan accordingly. As soon as I get my first seed book, I make a list of everything I plan to have in the garden. Using the germination and our scheduled market dates I will lay it all out on a planting schedule.
Here is a sneak peak at some of the produce that will be offered at the Illinois “Market on the Farm.” See the Events Calendar for dates and more details: https://cedaroakfarms.com/the-events/
Unfortunately, gardening is not a direct science. Science can certainly help in the planning, but Mother Nature still plays an important role and she can be a very cruel lady. I have certainly had to learn patience and have been forced to accept the things I cannot control, but there are things that can be monitored and changed along the way to ensure a successful harvest. I look forward to the challenges as I tackle a new growing season. See you at “The Market on the Farm!“