Farm Life, Summertime Edition

The part of the garden we refer to as "the farm" is just about my favorite hang-out this time of year. It has reached a fluffy, overgrown stage. Sure, it means a ton of work for FM and myself, but the rewards are huuuge. Fresh food is in a constant flow; in fact, I often look at our meals and usually half of what's on the plate came from the garden.

I will not lie. It's a commitment. And if you want it to really pay off you must preserve what you grow, primarily through pickling and freezing which is what we are learning to do. It's an adventure, but we're happy to share our humble experiences. With that, here is our take on the summer farm and the ever-changing and evolving veggie plot here at Chickadee Gardens.

We mixed it up this year. Kale, Swiss chard and bok choy are on the north side of the corn and in a different field all together, i.e., the east field rather than the west field. Crop rotation is to help keep pests at bay and improve the health of the soil. The categories to rotate are legume, root, leaf and fruit. So if you plant legumes one year, the next plant a root vegetable in its place and so on. That's a very simplified version but you get the idea.

My super, high-tech annual map of the veggie garden changes each year. North is straight up. Until now the corn had been grown on the western side, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. We switched the west and east around for crop rotation. The middle of this map represents permanent raised beds and perennial veggies. In making this map, I try to accomodate all the veggies I want to grow and hopefully do some smart companion planting. Not every veggie is compatible with the next, so a bit of research and planning goes a long way.

I obsess about these details each January and February, playing with my seed packets and dreaming of sunnier days ahead. Well, we're living those sunny summer days right now and are loving it.

It's been a steep learning curve. I've never gardened on this scale and have much  to learn. But I will give one piece of advice for those interested in growing their own food but feel intimidated: Do it! In the end, it's all about putting a seed in the soil and nurturing it. It does not have to be complicated like ours. I want to grow organically, so that means planning for me.

The yellow flowers on the left are broccoli that we have long since harvested, blanched and froze. We left the plants in the ground to bolt because the bees love the blooms. We did the same with our purple cauliflower (which turns greenish when you cook it). Often times when I harvest broccoli and cauliflower, I get smaller side shoots that I harvest into December. For some reason that didn't happen this year. It's never the same from year to year, we've learned that.

Fennel and dill to the right of the bolted broccoli and the wire dome is for cucumbers. I like the idea of growing gourds (and other veggies like cucumbers that tend to crawl on the ground) on a support system to keep the produce from sitting on the soil and potentially rotting. FM made me these "turtles" as he calls them to allow for the vines to grow up and over and have the cucumbers dangle down. Air circulation is a good thing, but getting to the cucumbers with this design is something I haven't figured out. See? I cram-scape even in the veggie garden.

Nasturtiums have completely made themselves at home. As an edible flower, it seems appropriate. There are hundreds of seeds in the ground and they come up here and there, no need to plant them ever again. In fact, I rip out 75 percent because they are too abundant. 

 One fabulous thing this year is the success of onions and shallots. Three solid rows, and they look beautiful. They are very easy to start from seed, by the way. On the left is the row of cabbages, most of which FM has harvested and are currently fermenting in a crock in our kitchen to become sauerkraut. We have a few left in the garden for fresh coleslaw and to give some away to friends and family. 

Also growing in this part of the garden are garbanzo beans, beets, delicata squash, celeriac, one zucchini plant, loofah gourds, and we had turnips earlier in the summer (first time growing those, they were great - like gigantic radishes), they are now gone. 

This is the fourth summer for the orchard and the apples are plentiful right now. One fig tree is starting to produce and we have two plums on the Late Santa Rosa plum and three pears on the Asian pear tree. No persimmons and only a couple of cherries this year. No other pears - yet. Perhaps next year.

The corn has been reduced in number. We dry it and grind it, which is incredibly laborious. It tastes great but a lot of work for FM. I can hardly crank the old handle on the grinder myself. Behind the corn, which is the north side, I wanted to grow peas and also sweet peas on trellises. The peas didn't come on until July (really) so I just let them go to seed to try again next year. I also planted a few other kinds of climbers to ramble up the cool rustic trellises FM manufactured. To the north of the trellises are rows of bok choy, kale, Swiss chard and castor bean plants for drama.

Raspberries on the left have been fantastic this year (as were the blueberries, strawberries which are still going, and gooseberries) and the edge of the western field on the right with nasturtiums spilling over. Behind the nasturtiums are two rows of beets, golden and red. I tend to direct-sow most veggies, except for broccoli, cauliflower, onions and cabbage, which I start from seed in the greenhouse.

The squash patch has been reduced this year to only three varieties - I want to grow what I love to eat so it's Winter Luxury pie pumpkins, butternut-orange squash and Musquee de Provence pumpkins. And nasturtiums. Pumpkin and squash when cooked (I roast it) freezes beautifully, by the way.

 Behind the corn, the castor beans are getting tall. I like adding flowers to the veggie garden, so we have plenty of sunflowers, calendula, nasturtiums, poppies, sweet peas and black-eyed Susan vines. Castor beans are extremely poisonous, but beautiful plants to behold. Lots of drama. Plus, it's said the moles hate them, so I plan on stuffing leaves down mole holes in the coming weeks if only to piss off the moles. Yes, it's the same castor bean that castor oil comes from. It's primarily the seeds that are poisonous.

 The bean poles. The one on the left is one pole of scarlet runner beans that I grew for the red flowers - for the hummingbirds. The rest are my favorite, Fortex beans.

 We pickled a dozen quarts of Fortex beans with garlic from the garden last weekend.

The pumpkin patch.

The artichokes were epic this year. I harvested box-loads of them and brought them to work weekly for a while. I let the last of them flower for the bees. I've learned to harvest them when they are young as they taste so much better.

Also in the perennial vegetable section is the asparagus. We had a good harvest, finally. After we had our fill we allowed it to bolt and flower to gain energy for next year. You need to leave newly planted asparagus alone for they say three years before you can really harvest it. Once you get past those initial excruciating years, it is said asparagus can last in one place for 25 years or more.

A Winter Luxury pie pumpkin growing in its new location on the east side of the garden this year. These make the BEST pumpkin pies, period.

The edge of the orchard. In all we have 22 fruit trees. You can see FM's new barn-owl nesting box in the background. No owls to speak of, but we often hear our quail family chirping in the undergrowth behind the fence.

Basil and other herbs occupy their own raised bed in the permanent part of the veggie garden. I will use as much fresh in salads as I can but I will also make pesto and freeze it. Other herbs I have drying in the shed - oregano and catnip (for Annie and Hobbes of course!) and tarragon. I am also growing dill next to the broccoli as it helps attract beneficial insects that keep pests in check and also the cabbage worm is repelled by it.

In the raised beds were garlic bulbs that were harvested some weeks ago and cured - carrots and lettuces are still going - radishes, spinach and some lettuce have come and gone, and I have let them go to seed so I may collect the seed for next year's crops.

Catnip drying in the garden shed. Annie and Hobbes are salivating just out of picture. 

We also raise honeybees. They have been moved to this more southern location and are right next to both the veggie garden and the labyrinth so have an abundance of food sources. Emma from Bee & Bloom visited recently to inspect the hive for mites. We have a few, so FM will treat the hive soon. We are hopeful for a few pounds of honey in early Fall.

Now the critters. We added three new pullets (adolescent females) to the flock, although this one seems more like a rooster. In fact, I'm 95 percent sure of it. We'll keep him all the same but we were a little bummed. We prefer hens because they lay eggs. The boys, well, they don't. Their only function is to protect the flock, eat and procreate. So that means our eggs might be fertilized in the future, which makes no difference in taste or usability. We'll keep him, but we need a good name. Suggestions? S(he) was Trixie up until now. A note on roosters: Many towns make it illegal to keep roosters for obvious reasons. Where we are (semi-rural) everyone has them, we are surrounded so it's not an issue. If you want chickens, by the way, read my old post about them here before you do so. Just saying.

These two lovely ladies will become full-fledged hens soon. They should start laying eggs in a few weeks if all goes well. That's Tillie on the left and Penny on the right.

Sweet Pea "eyeing" Gandy. This one is for Bergamot Villa, from the comments below. He's a big happy boy who is quite spoiled.

 A couple of weeks ago we pickled beets. That is a big job and I took a few photos during the process. Here the beets are in the ground, ready for harvest. FM is out of shot huffing oxygen preparing for the daylong process.

Part of the harvest, including a few onions that will go into the pickled beets.

 A mix of red and golden beets, ready for FM to remove the greens. I washed all 25 pounds, scrubbed them clean and cut them into chunks. They were placed into three large pots, cooking in boiling water for 30 minutes or so. They were then cooled, peeled and sliced into wedge shapes to fit into pint jars.

It took up the whole kitchen plus a table outside with a electric burner and a third gigantic soup kitchen pot.

A few bowls of golden and red beets (there were more not pictured here) plus a bowl of finely sliced onion. The beets are cooked, the onion is not. The onions went into a hot pickling liquid with vinegar, sugar and spices. The beets were packed into sterile jars and the pickling liquid with onions was ladled into each jar. They were then lidded and placed in a water bath for 30 minutes.

The end result! We processed 38 jars this day. It took a while but, oh, to have pickled beets in January is so worth it. This whole process took about five hours of our lives, by the way. The pickled beans took about half of that. This stuff takes time.

The veggie garden, hens, orchard and bees are the useful parts of Chickadee Gardens and we are thrilled to be able to have so much space to accommodate growing this much food. Even with a smaller garden it's possible to grow your favorites, either in raised beds, in the tilled earth or in containers. Even herbs on a windowsill taste so much better than store-bought. If you are lucky enough to have a local farmer's market, you likely don't need to grow your own but it is so rewarding.

I had little experience with veggies when we bought this property, but there is so much fantastic information out there that the challenge became do-able with enough muscle (Facilities Manager) and support. It is very helpful to have your soil tested to see what amendments, if any, you could add to produce nutrient-rich food. We went with Logan Labs, which listed exactly what and how much of each amendment we needed (think organic ones like cottonseed meal, kelp, lime, etc.). My go-to veggie growing books are Steve Solomon's Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, also by him The Intelligent Gardener. I also really like the Seattle Tilth's Maritime Northwest's Garden Guide as well as Vegetable Gardening: The Pacific Northwest from Timber Press.

Quick Tips For Growing Your Own Food:
  • Weed often
  • Water when needed (development of fruit but not while ripening, for example)
  • Test your soil
  • Try interesting varieties from seed catalogues, order early for best selection
  • Fruit trees take a long time to bear fruit
  • Learn how to prune fruit trees when young and buy dwarf varieties
  • Most food-growing requires at least a half day of sun. Corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, for example prefer all day sun. Lettuces, radishes, spinach can take a bit of shade
  • Weed often
  • Water in the morning or evening
  • Plan on checking your garden daily, food grows fast once it gets going
  • Have a plan for what to do with it all. Freeze, pickle, can, eat, give away, donate, share. 
  • You can grow food nearly year-round in the Pacific Northwest
  • Weed often
  • Don't plant seeds early thinking you'll get a head start on the season. They will grow when they are meant to, and quickly when happy.
  • Your local extension service (Master Gardeners) has excellent information about growing food in your region and also preservation tips. Follow canning and pickling recipes exactly. Don't mess around with potentially contaminating food. Canning and pickling are two different things - one uses vinegar to preserve food and the other, canning, uses pressure cooking. Very different.
  • Weed often
There are many great bloggers out there and websites dedicated to homesteading and growing your own food. I would encourage anyone interested to do a little homework. The rewards far outweigh any efforts. In this time of uncertainty it's especially rewarding to be able to contribute in small ways to your well-being. Do it.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy (food) gardening!


  1. Such a great post. Food gardening is incredibly labour intensive but so worth it. We too have a large veggie garden and once planting season starts this is where I spend most of my summer. Also full of flowers, fruit bees, butterflies, birds and weeds it is a magical place. Have to admit I felt shamefully smug when grocery stores were out of produce earlier this year yet we had a pantry and freezer full. Good news is the renewed increase in grow your own.

    1. Hi there, isn't it great having a large garden? So much joy...

      Thanks for mentioning the flowers, fruit bees, butterflies and more - these all add a magic to the garden that you really have to experience.

      I think we should all grow a little of what we eat, it would help in so many ways. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Wow... just, wow! I hope you know that when the Apocalypse hits we're coming to live with you. We'll pitch a tent over by the fence, out of the way... we'll be very quiet. ; )

    1. Ha! You are most welcome! Bring the tent, the dog and some good movies and we'll make a community camp out of it. Even without the Apocalypse, come get some veggies. Seriously.

  3. I have enjoyed reading about your journey on your special piece of land. I remember reading about your green roof at your other home. Thank you for sharing. It is so good to know of people who love and respect our earth. I look forward to your Thursday posts. You could name that rooster Tristan! I am a little hesitant to ask, since she has not been mentioned in some time. But do you still have your wayward turkey?

    1. Thank you Bergamot Villa, oh - the green roof! What fun that was. I wonder what it looks like these days.

      We totally respect the earth and are blessed and lucky to be here.

      I like Tristan! I have to convince FM, but I'm working on him. And oh, Sweet Pea the turkey is alive and well and hanging out with "his" hens. I should have included a photo...maybe I'll edit it and add one of him ;)

    2. OK Bergamot, I added a pic of Sweet Pea. Thanks for mentioning him, I had forgotten to add one, so thanks!

  4. This is impressive on so many levels, Tamara. Your "farm" is not only hugely productive but it's also beautiful and obviously well-planned and tended. Kudos on the canning process too!

    1. Aw, thank you Kris! I wish you could run over and grab some veggies and hang out with me.

      Oh, the canning. I don't know how I got so lucky with FM's willingness to help me.

  5. What an inspiration! Both the produce and the preserving regimen should be in a home gardening magazine. Such lovely canned goods. Such hard work!
    The freeloader rooster is too funny. Wasn't there a Freddy the Freeloader in the old radio/tv comedy routines? Or how about Sue (a boy named Sue?) Other names that seem fun:
    Hitch (hitching a free ride)
    Dodger (Roger the Dodger)

    1. Aw, thank you Sandy! Hard work, yes - anyone who grows food will agree, I'm sure. But totally worth it.

      I love your name suggestions! I'll float them by FM to get a vote. Keep 'em coming, folks - these are great!! Thanks Sandy!

  6. As always, your garden is amazing. I love your descriptions of the processes and work involved and the sage advice for folks who want to grow things. What a perfect way to live and share with your spouse all the good things that come from the Earth. Bless you, my friend.

    1. Aw, thank you Yohanna! Bless you too my friend! xoxoxo

  7. What a delightful and impressive post. I like the suggestion to name your rooster Tristan.

    1. Yes, I like Tristan too. We'll see....have to convince FM. Thanks for your kind words, Gail! :)

  8. Anonymous10:58 PM PDT

    Just stumbled upon your blog and what a treasure! Love seeing the mixture of gardening for food AND ornamental beauty 😊

    1. Thank you Anonymous! I think food and beauty are equally important, don't you? ;) Thanks for your kind comments!

  9. I feel envy. I want to collect plants. I'm planning to reconstruct my backyard and do some landscaping. You are my inspiration to continue my garden. Thank you

    1. Aw, thank you so much, what a compliment. Keep on gardening!


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