The Days Are Shortening, Time To Look Back On The Year

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We’ve noticed of late that we can go out earlier in the evening to put the chickens to bed and the sun is coming up later in the morning.  Being someone that really has his clock aligned with the sun cycle, it means a bit more sleep (Don’t fool yourself, I’m still starting to wake up before 4 am.).

But with the change of season (Today is 91. What change of season? – oh ya, the season we used to have before we screwed everything up), it is time to look back on the farm and assess the damage.  More and more we are becoming creatures of farm routine instead of construction engineers.  We declared an end to the expansion of the farm and have found that we are really at the limits of what two old farts can expect to accomplish (especially when one is only here half the week and needs to re-coup from the week at the “money and health care job”).  Every fall, we take a step back and survey all that we can survey and assess how things went and where we are headed.

The first assessment is owning up to our physical limits.  While we can still work most city folk under the hay bunk who are half our age, since adding quite a bit of livestock to the mix, it is an unrelenting schedule.  My back is doing great, but I have to watch how I bend (which makes hay stacking an adventure).  While the pain is gone from the spinal issues, they didn’t put me back together according to the factory specs.  I am never not stiff and sore.  From my neck to my calves, I have to stretch out every day and give myself a bit of time to get it all moving in one direction.  Zina has increasing responsibilities at work, so there has to be something of a balance between doing some chores, but also being able to simply “be” with the critters (Something we have come to call, Farm TV).  What we have learned this past season, is that the most important farm implements, the humans, have been tested to their limits and adding anything more would probably become something of a health hazard.  After all, if you consider that pre-civil war homesteaders lived about 50 years we are pretty long in the tooth.  We STARTED this place at 50.  Of course, we were urban farmers long before this, but the farm started on 12/4 of 2012.  We are coming up on 7 years of an unbelievable amount of work, both in its building and production.  If we do say so ourselves, we are some tough old birds.

So with that admission, the adding of anything new to the place that expands beyond what we are doing, won’t happen.  We had considered other livestock and such, but we already raise about 85% of all we consume.  There isn’t a lot left to consider unless we wanted some giraffes and kangaroos!  Any new projects will be enhancements of what we already have;  Things that come up that make you say, “You know what would really make this work well…..”  For instance, now that we have jumped into the dairy goat world, we discovered that we don’t really have a good place to milk.  The barn has a dirt floor and is pretty dusty.  So we may get another shed, just like the one we just got for the bucks, to use as a milking parlor.  We don’t milk the old fashioned way by squeezing.  We use a hand held milker.  That does keep the milk cleaner, but having the ladies in a dedicated area, along with our goat gear, makes a lot of sense.  So those kinds of enhancement things will continue.

The farm is a multi-faceted operation.  It is simply not possible to keep the schedule of “have to’s” in one’s head and hope to remain sane.  We have, and are, developing a yearly calendar that has all the reoccurring tasks in it; from goat vaccines, to coop cleaning, house cleaning, animal feeding, etc.  We’ve found that if we don’t do that, our minds stack everything up in front of us like a mountain and it is easy to get discouraged.  I suffer from Complex PTSD and anxiety ramps up pretty quickly when things look overwhelming.  We need to eat this elephant one bite at a time.  If our time is managed well, the anxiety is reduced significantly.

So then, How’d we do.  Overall 2019 GPA:  A  (Last year would have been a C)

The first goal was to have enough of the build out done so that we could focus on our gardens in ways we hadn’t been able to do before.  We were constantly splitting our time between making and building things and trying to stay ahead of the weeds in the old garden.  This year was a splendid success.  The move away from the hilled gardens to the boxed raised beds around the greenhouse was just the ticket.  While we weren’t able to really be intentional about it’s tending like we’d hoped, it was certainly better than in years past (surgery years not withstanding).  I worked like a madman to get the remaining 9 raised beds, hail guards and shade cloth covers up (I will be making 5 more this winter to finish them all off).  Last September around this time, we had water hydrants attached to the well and run to the greenhouse and to the barn.  This overcame yet another drought this year.  The high pressure was able to bring drip irrigation and provide hand watering to all 40 raised beds.  The spring started off cold and wet, which set things back about a month, then it all dried out.  Our temperatures were easily as hot as the drought from last year, but the shade cloth kept the plants from getting scalded in the mile-hi plains.  The hail guards did their job as well.  So unless we move into the 100’s for temperatures next year (a definite possibility), we have the vegetable gardens in a pretty good place.  I have planted Broccoli, Cauliflower, lettuce and spinach for the fall planting and once the tomatoes give it up in the greenhouse when we get our first freeze, I will be getting the cooler weather loving things going out there.  Shameless self-adulation:  I’m a damned good gardener.

Evaluation of the gardens:  Excellent.  Only the Tomatillos failed, but they have been particularly difficult to raise here for years (The grasshoppers love ’em) .  Everything has produced extremely well.  We had our first bout of white flies and tomato horned worms in the greenhouse, but we won the battle (tomato worms are disgusting creatures). The garden has done so well that we are crying uncle.  Next year:  No hard beans.  We have mountains of them and the beds can be put to better use.  You have to grow huge amounts of black beans to get enough to care about.  Probably going to punt on the Tomatillos.  We’ll rotate the tomatoes to the outdoor beds.  We need to get the cool season stuff in earlier in the spring and start the warm weather stuff later.  Try some melons.  Create cattle panel arches for the vining plants.  Foot long beans look interesting.  Grow more Shallots, they are great.  Keep doing celery.  Trust the seeder when planting carrots.  The carrots did great but they are way overcrowded.  Stay on the weeding to the neglect of everything else except the animals.  I cannot believe how prolific the bindweed is here.  They strangle everything.  More sunflowers.  Put in a long raised bed for potatoes and create a dedicated asparagus patch.

Construction to enhance:  Build the permanent fence around the gardens, string drip lines to the apple trees, finish the remaining hail guards, and build the potato, corn and asparagus beds.

Livestock:  We are officially turkey and dairy goat ranchers.  They were the new additions here.  On the bird side, we have begun hatching all of our own chickens and turkeys.  If you have never had a home raised turkey, boy oh boy are you missing out;  Absolutely incredible taste.  We are also hatching and raising Jersey Giants as our meat chicken flock as well as a smaller bunch of Cornish cross “Frankenbirds” in the spring.  We added grow out coops this year and moved the brooders to the barn so we don’t have to have the dust that baby chicks create, inside our home anymore.  All of this has gone great.  The only issue we have had to contend with is that turkeys are Stooooooooooopid!!  Chickens put themselves to bed at night, turkeys couldn’t find their tail feathers with a detailed map.  They like to roost up high so even clipping their flight feathers isn’t completely helpful.  The teenagers have figured out how to jump over to the breeder stock coop and that finds themselves getting their asses kicked by the adults. I mean KICKED!  Like dead.  I guess, if we had to evaluate the turkey flock as a meat source, it would be to hatch a bit fewer and process them sooner.  It is certainly worth the time, but as we speak I’d love to just take my shotgun and …….    Turkeys is dumb, Mkay?

We bred our little Ginger (Nigerian Dwarf Goat) this year.  That has been so much fun.  There is nothing cuter than baby farm animals.  As I write, it appears that one of our other does, Cumin, is pregnant.  We put her in with Tank, one of our bucks, and it was quite the courtship.  All of about 5 minutes.  I think we timed things correctly.

Ginger gave birth to Switch and Neo.  We have been using Matrix names for the boys.  Our intact bucks are Tank and Dozer (Also, Switch, because we first thought he was a she… nope…. two boys).  Now as sad as it is, bucks, like roosters, are not needed in quantity.  We have absolutely no need for two more stinky, crazy, breed-able boys.  So instead of simply doing away with them (They are our firsts, so of course we couldn’t just drown them), we will be turning them into Wethers (castrated males) and they will spend their lives with the girls.

Which leads me to the next point: Enough having to download more cranial software.  You’ve heard the canard, “It’s all a learning experience”, or “Learning is a life long process….”  all that New Age tripe.  I am tired of having to download new software into my head!  We are virtually all self-taught!  I want to have life be kind of routine for awhile.  Once those babies were born, it was a flurry of activity in trying to figure out what needed to be done.  Sure, as usual, we read everything there was, but its a whole ‘nuther thing to have them in your midst.  When do you de-horn?  What’s the best way to vaccinate?  Is momma supposed to be milked once or twice a day?  What do you do with the milk?  If I drink it will I die?  Whew!  The babies are still alive this morning, must not have screwed up too badly…..  Enough!  Now that they are going on 3 weeks old, we’ve pretty much got this wired, and, of course, if you just shut up and observe, you find out that momma goat has already got a lot of this figured out.  Observation breeds answers in most cases.

Evaluation of Livestock:  Raising goats is way fun.  Like being a first time parent, the unknowns are becoming known.  Considering that we have been raising other livestock for years and that I have experience being around cattle, we probably should have cut ourselves some slack.  We are looking forward to goat’s milk soap, and tasty cheese, and milk for our coffee.

The turkeys are a great success.  They aren’t my favorite animal, but considering that we don’t eat a lot of beef, ground turkey for meat and sausage does the trick (and they don’t weigh 1200 lbs).  Not to mention the fact that a roasted, home hatched and home grown Tom is about the best thing around.

We will be reducing our chicken egg laying flock. We are giving dozens of eggs away and it simply isn’t necessary.  We will hatch any replacements as the older hens get beyond their laying years (and the elders will become soup).  Also, the Jersey Giants are a heritage breed so they will also be laying eggs (and turkey eggs are huge and taste just like chicken eggs). We apparently have the butt nugget area covered pretty well

Meat birds.  Between the Jerseys and the Cornish Crosses we will proceed as usual.  We’ve got that wired too.

Pigs.  We will either keep buying gilts and barrows in the spring, or we may switch to breeds like Kunekunes or American Guinea Hogs.  If we want to breed them instead of relying on someone else to do it, I cannot handle an 800 lb. boar and a mad momma of comparable size any more.  Pigs are awesome.  They are smart, playful and friendly.  However, they are the size of a Buick and even if they didn’t intend to hurt you they certainly can.  We’ve taken to taking a cattle prod out with us when we interact with them. They love to come and rub on you.  They are currently as big as me and can upend you for no reason and then accidentally stomp on you while they run out of the way (I’ve seen them do it to each other…. not conducive to a human chassis).  Pound for pound a hog is probably the strongest animal you can have on a farm.  With the other breeds mentioned above, they are about half the size and a lot more docile.  So it remains to be seen which direction we head.  Again, we already have the infrastructure.  Its not a project that will  “add to” the farm.  More, its how best to move forward given all the above and what makes sense. Stay tuned.

Goats:  I’m all in.  Now that we know how to handle the husbandry issues, these little folk are about as sweet as they get.  And wow!  We eliminate another couple of staple items from the store: Soap and cheese.

Donkeys:  What can I say?  They are the Zen masters of the farm. We love them to pieces. I’d have a whole ranch full of them if we could swing it.  They are very old, wise, souls.

Looking Forward:

Our number one goal is to live with the place and just putz and have a routine.  This is a tough way to live, but now that the construction is on a “want to” instead of “have to” level, we can putz around as we choose.  Putting the gardens and the livestock at the forefront, as well as our personal enjoyment, is goal number one.

What would I like to work on?

  1.  Put the permanent fence around the gardens and get the remaining hail guards and beds built.
  2. If there is anything I would go into debt for (we don’t have any), it would be a solar hot water heater, a wood burning stove and a metal roof.  I hate the idea that we are dependent upon a guy and a truck to bring in propane.  Hail reduces 30 year shingles to 7.  While we are technically considered “off grid” I could virtually eliminate our propane bill just by heating water with the sun.
  3. I am looking into a gizmo called a “Cool-Bot”.  It takes a regular window mounted air conditioner and lets you use it as the cooling unit for a walk-in refrigerated room.  While we don’t need it to be refrigerator level cold, our “root-cellar”/ pantry in the basement still gets too warm in these scorching summers.  If I can insulate the room and use this gizmo, it will further our food storage capacity immensely.
  4. New shed for a milking parlor.
  5. Weave more.  Because of the farm schedule, I’ve not done much this summer.  Also, I was planning on having a booth at a local craft show for Christmas this year.  There is no way I’ll be ready for that.  Next year.  That is my art.  I’d love to see Zina get back at her quilting and needlepoint as well.  Oh ya, get my telescope out.  I miss my stars.
  6. Get the water catchment system up and running.  Almost there, just need to finish it up.
  7. Keep doing the vermi-composting and get the bio-char burners built so we can further develop our on site fertilizer operations

The only expansion (that’s not an expansion):

We operate this place roughly via Permaculture principles.  Everything is based on zones and everything eventually is supposed to bring in or create more than it cost.  So there are two areas that will be addressed (one will take years).

The first is to plant more trees.  We have locust trees down our southern border.  I’m going to be taking some of the seed pods and grow a bunch and plant them down our drive way and other places to serve as wind and snow breaks.

The second is to create a “food forest”.  For details do a search engine for it, but suffice it to say that it will be put into the old garden.  It will be a combination of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and vines, ground covers and pollinator plants, all designed to create a huge area that keeps producing food annually, increases wildlife, supports bees, and feeds us, all in balance with itself.

I have a line on some roofing steel and will begin to create a “roof” or lean-to that will allow me to divert water from that structure (about 1000 square feet) into ponds and irrigation drains that will feed some of the water needs of this food forest creation.  This will kind of be my canvas to paint on.  I’ve seen some in Colorado and it can indeed be done.  However, given the decrepitude of my old farmer butt, it will be a long term work in progress….. I guess, as it should be.

My ultimate goal anymore, is that no matter what the coming climate catastrophe may bring, it is to work according to what I see as “right action”.  I want this forty acres to know that I tried my damnedest to heal it and live with it.  It will ultimately fail, but that is what I know to be right and the only thing I really care about.  When the universe folds up on this minuscule part of itself, I’ll be damned if I go down with a legacy that I was just smacking a white pebble down green grass in stupid clothes consuming everything and serving no purpose.

So the JAZ Farm flourished this year; partly because the weather was more cooperative, but mostly because we improvised, adapted and overcame.  It’s always an adventure and I would suspect there are surprises lurking in the shadows as well as we progress into our 7th year.  What a long strange trip it has been.  Stay tuned.

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Delivered Via C Section

Ten pounds baby!  They all have been 5 lbs. or better this year.  We’ve been eating a ton of Coleslaw.  Later today or tomorrow the crock is getting stuffed to make Sauerkraut.  We each had a couple of bites from our first ever apple this morning – a little green Granny Smith. We thought it would make us pucker, but we were surprised.  Best tasting apple ever.   That kind of surprise always reminds me of why Citiots don’t understand why there are folks like us.  They’ve never really had fresh food with full flavor that came 50 yards or less from their front door.  Even when I hate it,  I love it.

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The Garden Is Filling The Pantry

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We are now in harvest daily mode.  The tomatoes are losing their minds as they usually do, the cucumbers are playing out, the giants – our sunflowers – are keeping watch, the onions came out yesterday and are mostly the size of racket balls (and very flavorful), we are being overrun with green beans and peppers.  The Habaneros are setting fruit and, if they continue, we will need to be drying them and grinding them into pepper.  The Cayenne peppers have exploded and will refill our cayenne pepper stock.  The Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, and Sage will keep us going for some time.  Our celery is up and salad ready.  We have over 50 lbs of cabbage heads.  The weights and lid for our crock are due tomorrow and we will be making and canning sauerkraut.  This weekend we will be harvesting black beans and more green beans.  The new spinach and Romaine lettuce seeds are due in from Johnny’s Seeds this week and they will go in the bean beds.  The beets are well on their way and our carrots, even though I didn’t thin them like I should, will give us a couple of bushels of can-able orange.  Today I planted the fall Broccoli and Cauliflower plants, tomorrow more onions will go in, and we are debating if we should even plant more cabbage. I have more than enough garlic so for the first time I won’t have to buy seed garlic for the October planting.  It is so nice, after surgery and a drought, to have the garden producing what I expect it to.

What Happened To Summer?

It dawned on me today that we are only a week or two away from Labor Day weekend.  It’s that kind of transition time into fall I guess.  The Cottonwoods are already beginning to yellow and the Maples, planted as landscaping trees in the city, are also beginning to turn.  This has been a summer of many types of weather.  As I write, a town to our west was just hit with tennis ball sized hail.  Usually that happens in the spring, but this year the moisture in both rain and ice form has happened throughout.  While we only had a couple of days over 100 degrees, we have had weeks on end of the very dry, mid-90’s.  We’ve been pretty good at getting out in the cool mornings to get chores and gardening done. Otherwise it just gets too hot to function.  As the storm blew through tonight on its way to Kansas, one of our basement window screens blew out and landed in our garden about 200 feet away.  Part two of this storm is on its way.  The lightning is flashing through the bedroom window blinds.

In this the early advent of fall, our gardens have not disappointed.  Harvest is getting into full swing.  The peppers have done so well that we are already dehydrating them and also giving them away.  We have Eggplant, Kale, Herbs, Cucumbers, Onions on the way, Green Beans, Garlic, Black Beans, 7 foot tall Sunflowers, and the Tomatoes have begun to turn despite some irregular watering that caused some blossom end rot, and over 60 tomato worms.  Our cabbage patch is insane.  We have been picking volleyball sized cabbages.  We stir fry a lot of it as well as mixing some into “to die for” coleslaw.  The onions will come out next.  The Zucchini have grown legs and are walking on their own. As usual, our celery is going great.  Our carrots and beets look great despite not thinning them as much as I should have   The squash plants seem to like their new home and we are starting to pick them as well.  The only thing that isn’t doing well this year are the Tomatillos.  Not entirely sure why, but they have always been a bit persnickety.  Tomorrow, weather permitting, I am going to start getting the fall succession planting in.  This will include more onions, more cabbage, Broccoli and Cauliflower.  In the next week or so I will sprout and plant spinach and seed in a bed of leaf lettuce that will give us salad until the first freeze. It appears that we have been successful in drought proofing the gardens, which is a big relief.

We are also on baby goat alert.  One of our does, Ginger, is due in under 2 weeks.  We are very excited for the new arrivals and have been working to get the kidding pen all in order. As she looks like a waddling quadruped, I’m sure she will be relieved when it’s all over too.

Today was canning and dehydrating day.  I canned tomato sauce from our first good sized harvest.  We ended up with 10 pints.  More are on the way so we will be canning tomatoes up until the first freeze, or until we are sick of it.  All told we have out about 20 lbs of peppers in the dehydrator, not to mention how many we have given away.

So other than the wetter weather this year energizing the weeds and promoting east of the Mississippi kinds of bugs, this year has gone very well.  Bring on the fall.  The sooner the cold weather kills off the flies and grasshoppers the happier I’ll be.  I’m tired of this high plains oven!  I have a fence to build.  I need it cooler!

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Homesteading Is Like The Movie Groundhog’s Day

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On a Farm, basically the same thing happens every year.  The cool part though is that it has variations as you go, and the end result is always satisfying.  We discovered, in this year’s garden, that the spacing recommendations on the packets don’t always hold true.  With our green beans, this was absolutely the case.  We harvested 2, 4×12 beds of green beans and came away with just as many beans as we had in our old garden spaces with a measured seeder.  These beds were hand sown and way too close together.  BUT!  If you add a huge amount of chicken poop, no amount of crowding seems to matter because there is enough nutrient for all involved.  We harvested several bushels of beans that translated to the 41 quarts plus give aways.  This easily matched the old garden yields. We have enough canned green beans to provide beans as a vegetable once a week for over a year.

If you are striving for self-sufficiency, keep in mind that if you have a large organic garden (ours is a half acre of 40 raised beds), when you harvest your produce, you need to know how to store it.  It is an immense job.  I’ve found that no matter what the vegetable, the canning of it takes a whole day.  My last 14 quarts are in the canner as I write this and it is 6 pm.  I started at 9 this morning…. actually it took 3 days. I’ve been cutting off the ends and chopping them into bite sized pieces for the past two days.  Of course, there are all the other chores that don’t disappear.  My friend Eddie, who owned our local feed store, said that no one seems to understand that everything you add to a farm in order to expand, just compounds all of the care taking involved.  Absolutely true.  You need to take care so as to not grow beyond your ability to handle.  Animals are just like children.  Just because you are canning, doesn’t mean the donkeys don’t need feeding or eggs need collecting.  Know your limits.

Tomorrow, pepper harvesting and cleaning the barn.  We have a prego goat that needs a clean nest.  She’s due in the next few weeks.  Stay tuned.  We are guessing (Hoping for) twins.  She is really turning into Mother Waddles.

 

You Have To Graduate Sometime

 

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Imagine it.

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Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.  Be the expert.

So many Homesteader, Small Farmer, Off-Gridders don’t give themselves enough credit.  Admittedly,  most I see are 30 and 40 somethings that have had it with the city, knew nothing about self-sufficiency, but needed to escape Cubicalville.  I get that.  But enough with the self-deprecation!  I know a lot of them, to avoid having to have a job at the same time, are trying to use You Tube and other means to generate incomes.  To that I say, “more power to ya”.  My answer was to work in high anxiety corporate hell until I broke down, and then take the money and run….. plunging it into our Shire.

But enough with the sad sack “We are all just learning and we don’t know what we are doing, we are just sharing our journey with you, tripe!”  As I used to tell my rookies when I was a training manager, that simply by passing the regulatory and licensing exams that have  allowed you to be here, you know more than 95% of the people you will meet and consult with……. act like it!  At some point you need to admit that you know what you are doing.  Admitting to setbacks doesn’t imply stupidity or lack of knowledge.  No amount of knowledge could help you get through the plague of grasshoppers that the folks in Las Vegas are contending with, or the drought that wiped out our gardens last year, or any other unforeseen issues that continually come up.  If you encounter it, it is called problem solving!  It isn’t some Romper Room childish phrasing you hear from the clueless, suburban, BMW driving, bedroom nurseries that “It’s all a learning experience!”  Hack Gag Puke!  That is someone else’s desire to level you down to their ignorance.  At some point you have to put on the big farmer panties and problem solve, adapt and overcome.  It’s not arrogance to say so.  How many tie wearing assholes have you encountered that think their heads are too big for their hats because they can swing a friggin’ golf club?  This is self-sufficiency boot camp.  You don’t get to stay there forever.  At some point you need to go out and be a specialist in your chosen and self appointed mission.  “Learning experience”….. blech!  That’s like getting tongue kissed by your dog!  I guess I won’t be doing THAT again.  See- I learned.  What a wonderful experience.  Tastes like dog ass.

They don’t have graduation ceremonies for this kind of thing so at some point (in our case, 15 + years) you need to walk away from the folks that self-deprecate, put on a robe and tassel, walk across your own stage and say “Yes, we are experts and we know what the hell we are doing”.  After all, even musicians become virtuosos at some point.  In our case, we be rockin’ self-taught, semi-arid climate, vegetable growing, virtuosos!  If you started down this path and you haven’t given up that means you are a problem solver.  It means you have skills.  It means that you can mentor and help.  Just because you were told by society that we should all act like sixth graders, be subservient and use (dear god kill me now) corporate speak (I just thought I’d reach out to you and…..  where’s my AR??!!) , doesn’t mean you need to bring that to your own life of freedom.  Be free.  Revel in your expertise.  Very shortly, you will be in high demand.  Your problem solving skills will be all you have.  JAZ Farmers excel in what they do.  Strap on the overalls and use your brains as well as your rake and shovel.  Let the Citiots all talk like Dick and Jane.  You are passed that now.  You know your food doesn’t just appear in wrappers in a cooler at the Walliemart.  Rise above it.  Don’t slog through it.  Rant Over.  The End.

 

The Harvest Begins!

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After surgery 2 years ago this month, a drought and infestation of grasshoppers last year, a revamping of the raised beds, including hail guards, shade cloth and high pressure water hydrants, the JAZ Farm gardens are performing like they have always been expected to. We adapted and overcame just like farmers have to.  So far we have only had to contend with “normal” gardening annoyances like tomato horn worms (hack, gag, puke!), some grasshopper issues in our cabbages, and – something I never thought I’d say- too much water!  The whole garden is exploding!  Weeds included.  We are going to be manufacturing rope out of the bind weed and see if we can’t find a market for it! LOL.  The baskets shown here are from just one of our bush bean beds.  There is one more ready to be harvested this afternoon so we will be at close to 3 bushels.  We have 2 more that will be ready around the beginning of September.  I guess I’ll be canning tomorrow.  We should be all set on green beans for the coming winter.  Once we pull the bean plants, there will be Cauliflower, more Cabbage, Broccoli and fall onions waiting in the wings.  It’s nice to be back on track.  Maybe a bit more hobbled, but the main gardening implements – the people – are alive and kicking and back in the saddle.  We were left unsupervised and a garden broke out!