Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Berries

We put berries in during our first spring here, but I've looked at them repeatedly and thought, "Next year- I'll get them squared away next year." Well today I bought a yard of mulch and the children and I spent the majority of the day tending this patch.

Now the blueberries, currants, and gooseberries look like this:

I had sheet mulched around these a few times, so it wasn't too hard. I also have a better sense for how I want to tend them.

A few weeks ago all the blueberries' leaves looked like this:

But now this is the only one all red like this. Now this plant is more representative of the group:
They have been getting the milk routine as well, but not as often. You might note there is no Japanese beetle damage here either. I think I am finally making headway with these berries.

Unfortunately, the strawberries just look terrible. I have a few rows in the house garden ready to receive plants. My goal is to have 100' of strawberries, which is about 50 plants. We'll transplant tomorrow, but it will be out of this mess:
 Then, I'll try to prep this space to be the new home for the raspberries.

On the upside, the blackberries look beautiful. The first few tasted blah, but they're beginning to taste better, and I cannot bring myself to cut these down.

Monday, July 29, 2013


It's not quite August and here's our woodshed!
That will last us through winter, and the first two rows are left from last year, which means we will actually start the fall shoulder season with dry wood.

And here's the beginning of the pile to dry for next year.
The fallen over side is the one I stacked. We should have about two cords stacked here drying for winter next year. We are slowly stockpiling wood with a goal of having three years of wood in a cycle.

Friday, July 26, 2013

More on Milk, Amendments and Potato Beetles

I just want to mention that this year is supposed to be particularly good for potato beetles and that in past years, I have been particularly good at giving them a habitat. Last year, I even added a new type that prefers tomatillos and husk cherries.

This year, I definitely have seen the potato beetles struggling a bit more in the habitat I'm providing by planting potatoes, tomatillos, and husk cherries. They keep getting a jump when it rains and washes all that is good in my soil away. But, I keep knocking them back.

First, I waited to put hay around the plants until after they were a good size. I mounded the plants the first two times with dirt. The good thing is that it gives the beetles fewer places to hide; the bad thing is that the soil was exposed to the dry weather for the first couple of weeks, then the deluge afterwards. About two weeks ago, we got 4 inches of rain in two days and that's when the potato beetle numbers rose to what I'm used to seeing in my garden.

The larvae pretty quickly ate all the leaves off the new growth from around 30% of my plants before I sprayed my milk and complete feed foliar spray. Then, I spent about 3 hours picking all the larvae off. Then we had another huge storm that knocked all the plants over.

So this week, I was prepared for another onslaught. What I found was the growth that had been chewed away regenerated. And, the stems that were exposed by the plants blowing over were also covered in new leaves. And, though there were some new larvae, there were fewer than 5 adult beetles and only about 10 out of the 60 plants had any larvae on them. And, I found only one very small cluster of eggs.

What this means to me is that my plants are pretty strong. The new leaves mean that the plants are better able to keep making bigger potatoes. While I am still struggling against the potato beetles, I am definitely getting the upper hand. We're a few weeks, 2 or 3, away from when I figure we'll see blight this wet, wet year, and the potatoes still have so many leaves that blight might actually be an issue. But maybe, my plants will be robust enough that they can even beat blight.

I actually just really hope to not find out.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Thought

It's an excerpt from Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer by Wendell Berry

"Beware of the machinery of longevity. When a man's life is over the decent thing is for him to die. The forest does not withhold itself from death. What it gives up it takes back."

Our culture has turned death into a thing to be avoided, which is crazy. Death, I believe, is unavoidable. Why leech endless resources to protract our one measly life?

Friday, July 12, 2013

More on Bugs and Milk

Maybe you've heard, but we have had inordinate amounts of rain in the last month- so much rain that there aren't many strawberries because they've molded on the vine. Being from Texas means I avoid complaining about rain. And our grass is the most beautiful we've ever seen it because of all this rain. Our cow is very happy with all the nice pasture.

However, there are complications. You might think that we would always need rain because of our sandy soil. You would almost be right. Even as wet and sopping as everything is right now, if we do go the next five days without rain, the garden and the pasture will show signs of stress.

Still, the garden is suffering. The sandy soil means that none of my plants are standing in water, not even with all the hay I've put in the garden for mulch. What has happened is that all this rain easily leeches nutrients from our soil. Soil without nutrients means the plants do not have all the trace elements they need to have happy bacteria and fungi around their roots. For all I know, the inundation might even wash away some of those microbes, because it has rained and rained and our soil looks a lot like beach sand.

The rain also washes away my foliar feeds, so I have been spraying milk twice a week instead of once. And still, the latest deluge seemed to be the final straw for the potatoes and pumpkins. The potatoes are crawling with potato beetle larvae and the squash beetles have killed two pumpkin vines. To give a little perspective, my potatoes are still leafy and lush, not a bunch of bare stalks, and this time last year, the cucumber beetles had eaten most of the vines to the ground, so even with these setbacks, I'm still ahead of where I was last year. Also, I have mulched heavily with hay, so I have trapped some of this water to get the plants through the next little dry spell.

I also ordered more of the trace mineral/complete feed from Nutrient Dense Supply Company. I have the recipe for making it myself, but so far, it's been worth it to just buy it from them. Yesterday, I sprayed this at the maximum concentration with more milk. Now, it's not supposed to rain for a few days, so maybe the plants can get a leg up, and the various invertebrates will not thrive.

I'll post pictures of the garden soon!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Sometime you might
wonder whether you'll do anything
Then you'll be in your
garden, eating peas from
dying vines
while bees and wasps
nectar at buckwheat
and the almost-weed borage,
the smell of garlic scapes
mingling with the
sweetness of peas,
and "right" will be
less important
than "now" and "good enough".

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ladies of the Lake

I think I never posted last summer about the swimming that we did. Our group dwindled down to two, but we did many, many swims.

Last summer, we spent over an hour in early JUNE swimming a triangle in Nichols Pond. We did have a guest join us that day. Our guest instituted a new policy which is any survivors must write a ballad for the drowned. While none of us believe we'll drown, we have been forced into having policies to comfort various family members.

We also swam from beach to boat launch at Lake Eligo. That was not a pleasant swim- very weedy. However, we did work out the rest of our drowning policy. If the lady drowning seems likely to pull the rescuer under, the rescuer may wait for the drowning lady to pass out before saving her. The only addendum is that my partner MUST make it home, so I am the only one allowed to drown. Lake Eligo also offered a fine scream or two when the weeds attacked us; that is the closest my partner has come to drowning. She is the better swimmer, but she doesn't swim that well when she's laughing her head off after I scream. Also, after all the discussion about drowning, we discovered we were in under 5 feet of water.

The goal this year was four new lakes or ponds, and we have managed 3 already. We are also managing many more "training" swims in our most convenient, and therefore favorite, bodies of water. It has been a warm few weeks; add to that high humidity and we've had many good reasons to swim. The water is also warmer this year, which makes swimming more pleasant for my partner.

We swam Buck Lake with our "guest" swimmer again, but she is now an official Lady of the Lake. The lightening drove us from the water, but if we waited for a day with no thunderstorms, we wouldn't have swum at all this summer. Buck Lake was not new for us, as we also swam it last year.

Green River Reservoir was one of our new swims this year. We swam from the boat launch, roughly, to the big island. That was more than an hour of swimming, but we had a nice rest on the island midway through. We also swam the length of Shadow Lake; thanks to the friendly kayakers, we did not get run over by a motor boat. Although the things we cannot see cause us the most anxiety, motor boats are the only real threat on most of the lakes around here. And today, we swam across Long Pond and back which took just over an hour. For these new places, we decide which point across the lake or pond will be the turning point. At Shadow Lake, we were in the water around an hour and then walked back to the parking area.

We are inviting people for a group swim on July 27. Maybe we will get some new recruits; people definitely are interested. Many worry that they're not good enough swimmers. The trick is to just keep swimming and chatting and laughing at the moments of panic. No one wants her ballad to be about how she was drowned by a deer fly or a warm spot in the lake. Let me know if you can come and I'll give you the details!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bug Collection


Maybe rosehip fly

Colorado potato beetle

I think this is either a bee fly or flower fly, not a true bee.

Euclytia flava, another parasitic fly

Parasitic fly, Gymnocheta

Green-striped grasshopper?

Aerial yellow jacket

Friendly fly


A Charlotte-type gray spider

Another flower fly

This looks like an ant, but might be a wasp.

Pasture grasshopper

Northern corn rootworm

Short winged grasshopper

Lucia azure

Another flower fly


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Let's Make this Homeschool Email a blog post

I spent an hour writing it, and it's a nice summary of the things that wake me in the night about homeschooling.

Homeschooling is not easy, and I think it's even trickier once you get past the elementary years. Once these guys hit puberty, they have a much stronger urge to be with their peers, and we see their very best (and their very worst) when they are actively engaged with a group. Any parent really looking at their child will know that we actually cannot inspire the same thought and work that a group of motivated peers can.

I know as a homeschooler I am not supposed to say things like that, but I also know that I've struggled with it since Ezra turned seven. I realized I could teach the children pretty much anything but I could never play with them like another seven-year-old. Though I struggled against being a "soccer mom", driving my over-scheduled children from one enrichment to the next, I have not really found another way to balance this genuine desire for peers against my genuine mistrust and dislike of the institutional school system.

My understanding is that the public school available to you completely will not meet (anon 1) academic needs and interests. That the school will not be at all like the program she went to this summer. While you also cannot offer what she experienced this summer, there are many resources available throughout the school year where you could give her spells of that sort intermingled with the best you have to offer. (Check MIT SPARK and SPLASH as well as Brown's programs and the RISD summer programs) I know (anon 2)  is doing a variety of online courses that seem to work well for her and their family situation.

To be completely blunt, I really think the institutional school system is completely dysfunctional, and if education and joy in learning were the only things we wanted for our children, it would be the worst place in the world. But there is other stuff going on, stuff not really covered in a standardized test that has to do with peer relationships and problem solving and coping and engaging with adults besides parents. I also think that a homeschooler CAN offset some of the deficiencies once the parents recognize that it's not some Sophoclean idyll.

These are things I've pondered for 14 or 15 years, because I've known since I taught school that I would be a homeschooler. If I have it right, you have only been in this territory for just over a year. If you are at all the sort of person to reflect, you know you are probably failing (anon 1) in myriad ways, and it mostly sucks to not be able to set our darlings on the bus and check education off our list of things to do. (Sentences like that can sound so condescending in an email, so please read this with a generous heart and know I feel sympathy for your situation, not superiority or disregard.)

So, what are we to do? First, a "good" curriculum is pretty unsatisfying if you and (anon 1) don't like it. I use http://www.amblesideonline.org/curriculum.shtml . There are problems; I am not Christian and the people who provide this curriculum are decidedly so. I actually like the arc that the Waldorf curriculum follows, and this one follows a different philosophy. There is no math, and the science is a little thin. The writing areas are a bit vague for me. However, I really like how heavy the reading component is and I like the variety that it offers. I like that it emphasizes a style of learning that has been long gone in the institutional system. I like that it was developed for people educating children in a home.

It means I spend a fair bit of effort sculpting it into what I want to teach, but this takes less time than completely writing my own curriculum. I did write my own the first 4 years, with a Waldorf flair, and the children and I spent too much of our time arguing about what HAD to be done. Now, I substitute Waldorf type books for some of the Christian books. I've figured out that some books I would have skipped entirely have some important historic significance in our culture. I supplement with this math curriculum: http://www.cimt.plymouth.ac.uk/ . I have decided that science history combined with a strong focus on natural history was fine until last year, Ezra's 7th grade year; now, I find a science curriculum or text that I feel good about. Last year, I used three different cell biology texts, but this year, I want more follow up. I am looking for a writing course I feel good about that looks interesting. And so on....

My point is that I feel like I have brilliant children who need college prep experiences, but I don't feel they're like (anon 2) and able to do college type courses online yet. I have to have done at least some of the reading I'm asking them to do, so that we can have good discussions about them. I feel like my effort means they have more intellectual engagement with the subject matter. I listen to them when they really hate a particular book (Robinson Crusoe), and sometimes we soldier on and sometimes we completely drop it (Pilgrim's Progress).

I also feel there are many valid paths to an "education", and as the children get older, we have to become partners in what that means. I use that curriculum because it seems inherently flexible and it's free, but I know there are hundreds or thousands of choices out there that are all pretty good in one way or another. Unfortunately (or maybe the opposite), for a homeschooler to have lots of intellectual engagement, the parent has to take up lots of slack and try to find chances for the children to engage with peers both socially and intellectually.

That was long-winded but maybe not more help than just knowing that most homeschoolers who care are facing the same issues you are.