We’ve entered the dog days of late summer here on the farm. The days have been hot and humid, the animals are moving slowly, the garden is winding down, and early signs of fall are all around us. If anything, the farm has taught us to really appreciate the arrival of each season and the changes that each season brings to our routine. In the past, I was one of those people who dreaded the changing of the seasons. I would mourn the end of summer, dread the arrival of winter, and impatiently await the arrival of spring. Since having the farm, each season carries more meaning, and we look forward to each season for the individual qualities that it brings. What I used to loathe about the fall and winters – the slow down, the cold weather, the quietness – I now look forward to and savor. It’s safe to say that this outlook has transcended from not only the seasons of the year, but the seasons of our life. I could go on and on about all of the lessons this little farm has taught us – they are innumerable – but one big recurring lesson is to enjoy the changing of the seasons. Doug and I have been talking a lot lately about our farm goals and our dreams for the future, and we have SO many ideas bouncing around in our heads. Things that we want to change, things that we want to expand upon, new things that we want to learn and do. Although we are not ready to share our plans just yet, we are excited and anxious for some big changes coming to Elder Oaks Farm in the coming year.
While we’ve been busy brainstorming and dreaming, here’s what’s been going on around the farm:
The butterflies are finally back! We usually have an abundance of swallowtail butterflies throughout the spring and summer, but this year it took them a while to really show up. Not sure if it has to do with local pesticide use and mowing, or if many of the early caterpillars and butterflies got killed by our late frost, or maybe a combination of both. But either way, we are sure glad to see that they are finally here in full force. We’ve even spotted a few monarchs this year as well. The butterflies are such beneficial pollinators and they also add an element of magic to our yard and garden. I’m always amazed by the butterflies with broken and tattered wings that continue to pollinate all of the flowers. It’s incredible how much inspiration you can get from the littlest things if you just slow down enough to see them.
The garden is slowly but surely winding down. We are still harvesting beans every few days, and the eggplants are setting their second round of fruit. The star of the garden this time of year is always the okra. This year’s okra plants are all about ten feet tall and are producing fruit at an alarming rate. They will continue to do so until late October as long as they don’t get taken out by any storms. Much to our surprise, we’ve even gotten a few last minute random volunteer tomatoes in the past few weeks. The marigolds are all still in bloom, and some late cosmos are blooming in our raised pollinator beds so there is still plenty of color around. Our zinnias and Mexican sunflowers in front of the garden are a wild jumbled beautiful mess. We direct sowed both of them this year and they have grown into the most vigorous flowers we’ve ever had.
Speaking of the garden, we started our fall garden seeds last week. We decided to keep it simple this year by growing the things we eat the most of and that produce the best – bok choy, kale, and swiss chard. Yes, that’s it. Over the past few years we have tried and tried to grow broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage from seed and no matter what we do, the plants never grow mature fruit. We usually end up eating the broccoli as sprouting broccoli and the rest of the plants get ripped out and thrown to the chickens. Much to the chickens’ dismay this year, we decided to forego all of the trouble of trying to start all these things from seed and just stuck with the things that we like to eat and that we know we can grow from seed. If we decide that we want to grow any other winter veggies, we will head to the local nursery and pick up some plants. However, the thought of not having to tend to and transplant as many veggies this fall is actually quite relieving. We started three trays of bok choy, kale, and swiss chard seeds in soil blocks a few weeks ago and they have already started to sprout. It’s safe to say that we are officially converted to soil blocking.
On to the chickens. All of the pullets that we raised this year have finally started laying, which means that we have become overrun with eggs. Now that we don’t have much of an egg business anymore, we have been asking ourselves why raising more chickens this year was a good idea (chicken math, anyone?!). I mean we’re definitely not complaining here, we just can’t help but laugh when we collect over 20 eggs a day while we still have at least twenty dozen eggs in dry storage in the pantry. However, we have noticed that some of our older girls are already starting to molt, so we will be extra thankful for the pullets once everyone else stops laying eggs this fall and winter.
We checked in on the bees a few weeks ago and man do they all look great! I have mentioned a little bit about this in past posts, but this year we decided to really take a hands off approach with our bees, and it may be just a coincidence, but these hives are the best looking hives we’ve ever had. The change in location also helps – I definitely think that giving the bees plenty of their own space stresses them out way less. It sure stresses us out less too – neither of us have been stung this year even during inspections. Up until this point, we have been checking in on the bees about once every month. During these checks we assess for signs of pests and disease, we look for the queen or for eggs (a sign that the queen was present and laying within the past few days), we assess honey and pollen storage, and we get an overall idea of how the hives are doing. Each hive is moving at its own pace, but they all look stellar. In the coming weeks we will go back in again and assess how each hive looks in regards to honey storage for winter. We may only be able to harvest a few frames of honey at most from our biggest hive, but that’s ok because we still have a handful of mason jars full of last year’s honey in the pantry. Depending on how much honey each hive has stored up, we will start feeding sugar syrup next month to help them build up their stores for winter.
As for everything else, it’s just been business as usual. Nothing really new on the farmstead, but lots and lots of ideas brewing. Other than that, we are gearing up to head out on a trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons soon, so stay tuned for more about that and our future plans when we return!