FoxPlot babies

The first farm babies of the season arrived on February 25, much to the delight of their father and the relief of their mother.  DSC_0544Violet and Hazel arrived more quickly than their older sister Ruby had, but with no less fanfare. Ruby (2.5) who loves all soft and fuzzy things, loves to pet their soft little heads, and pick out soft fuzzy outfits for them to wear.

Just as those babies reached two months old, our next batch of farm babies arrived.  Fifty chicks hatched on a Monday and were overnighted from Whitmore Farm, in Maryland.  We chose three breeds; Ameracauna, Delaware, and Wellsummer. DSC_1929This is our first foray into the world of backyard chickens and while it might not be the ideal time to start a new project, here we go! We have be saving egg cartons for several years with the intention of having chickens in the future. Ruby is in love with them, and they seem to tolerate her affections well.  She talks to them sweetly and tells me how soft baby chicks are when they are just born. They spent the first week inside our house, but rapidly outgrew the space.  When the house started smelling a wee bit like a zoo, we moved them to a larger space in the garage. Ruby excitedly helped move them but then upon realizing what had happened, she criedDSC_1991 and begged me to ‘put them back where they were.”  The chickens seem to be bigger each morning, and before long they will be ready for backyard living.

The growing season is also well underway at the FoxPlot. We might be crazy for trying to grow while now juggling three very small girls, but we are not without help.  Sara S. has been diligently starting and tending the greenhouse full of plants, and has begun planting them out in the garden beds.  Our biggest problem seems to be growing more plants than we have room for! The peas are 8 inches high, the spinach is fully grown, and the kale and chard are not far behind. It’s been a reasonable spring, with fair days followed by cool rain.  The tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplants are taking over every inch in the greenhouse and will be in the ground soon, weather permitting.  (Insert awesome plant photo here. Regrettably, we have taken very few garden photos this year but it’s my intention to take more).

We are still offering shares of our CSA for this season.  We will be selling at the St. Charles Market as often as we can, though the schedule is yet to be determined. You can stop by the Baker Methodist Church for the indoor St. Charles Market tomorrow from 9-12.  Sara will be there with loads of spinach, plants, and a few jars of honey from last season.

Growing in 2015

The FoxPlot is growing in ways we never imagined.  Here’s a bit about how we grew in 2014, what’s coming up this season (Hint: 2015 csa!), and how the FoxPlot family is growing.

I know I’ve been lax about posting what’s going on around here, and I apologize.  The growing season of 2014 was a great one.  We had our first CSA, just during the ten peak weeks of the season and sold our goods at the St. Charles Farmer’s market as well. While both Nate and I worked (in addition to growing), we managed it all with loads help from family and friends, and even used the toddler to sell more vegetables on account of cuteness. DSC_6018Our final harvest was in mid-November and the boxes were overflowing. Even now in February, we still have potatoes, onions, squash, and cabbages.

With the addition of a walk-in cooler in the barn, plenty of harvest bins, some major equipment purchases, and fall bed clearing and prep, we are more prepared for this growing season than ever before and still I know there are hundreds of details we’ve overlooked. Our friend Sara started helping us this fall and has us leaps and bounds ahead of last February.  She has spent many winter hours working on the plan for this season, and within the next month, we will start starting those starts.  This season our CSA boxes will start in June, and continue 20 weeks through the end of October.  Here’s the flyer with all the details: 2015 csa. If you are west of St. Charles, you can pick up your share at the farm on Fridays. We are also offering a Tuesday pick up at Fresh Ground in Geneva. IMG_0204

The curveball headed our way (also within the next month): The farm crew grows by two very small farmers!  We found out in August that the one baby we were expecting was really two. Our hands (and hearts) will be very full this spring, though please don’t ask us really hard questions because chances are high that sleep will be hard to come by.

How these tasty vegetables might find their way to your plate

Somehow, it’s July already and we are already turning over beds and planting again for fall time. The corn is as tall as I am, and endured the wild summer storms we’ve been having recently. It seems I may have over planted lettuce, that being one of my favorite things to plant, but there’s still time for salads to be had before the plants are spent. And I’m feeling hopeful that the weeds won’t take over for good- Our friend Carlos has spent hours this week, turning the tide in our favor in the battle agains the weeds.  

How can you get your hands on some of these tender lettuce leaves? Currently, you have two options. We are at the St. Charles Farmer’s Market each Friday morning, beginning at 7am and ending at 1pm. Beginning in late July, get a box of the best of this seasons produce. Go all in (or just half in) and buy a peak season share in our CSA. Shares may be picked up at the FoxPlot or at Moveable Feast.

This Friday at the market, we will have loads of cabbages, kale, broccoli, lettuce and salad mix, beets, and pattipan (those flying saucer shaped sumer squash). We can’t wait to see you there!

Time to pick the radishes: a homecoming

Image

My alarm sounded at 4:18am.  Just five more minutes.  Why was I getting up this early?  I peeled one lid open and stopped the noise, and searched for my glasses.  I looked at my phone again, and remembered.  Time to pick the radishes. image

And just like the that, farmers market season has begun.  The last time I’d assembled all the stuff (the tent, coolers, tables, bags, scale, rubber bands, dry erase board, tablecloths, and don’t forget the honey!) was maybe August 2012.   Continue reading

The bees keep themselves

The last time I actively engaged in beekeeping was about a month before Ruby was born (so about 18 months ago or so).  In the swirl of life the followed the arrival of one little bundle, I cannot remember exactly what the state of things was heading into that winter.  I do know that none of the hives survived the winter but that some equipment remained out at the edge of the garden and wooded area. With such a small one in tow, I decided not to get any bees in 2013, but to wait and live vicariously through my mom’s bees.  In the meantime, she helped pull in some of the hive bodies and supers but we didn’t get it all.  In June, our little family moved, making it even easier to put off cleaning up the hive that stood out by the garden. One covered super and one full hive remained, all winter long. That long, epically cold, Polar Vortex of a winter. I was sure that in my neglect, wax moths and earwigs had taken over in the fall, and I was hoping the long winter had killed them off. 

Which brings us today, a cold, yet springy day when I finally stopped procrastinating and went to collect the hive boxes. I was ready for a mess, maybe a mouse nest or two.  The hive looked rather worse for wear, covered in insect poop. We lifted the lid and to my complete surprise, the soft hum of bees escaped.  

Bees!

I was shocked!  I whooped, hollered, and even swore in front of my mother. There is a live and healthy hive!!  It’s unlikely, though not impossible.  My best guess is that a hive swarmed sometime last spring or early summer and found the vacant accommodations to their liking and set up house.  I also wonder if the cold helped keep out the humidity, which can be harder on the bees the cold.  And this just might be an opportunity to make it up to those bees to whom I neglected. 

 

Holding on to hope

Several years ago (six, I think), I visited my brother Bryan in Alaska.  En route, I was awake for nearly 24 hours, then spent most of the week wearing long underwear in June, staying in a cabin with no running water, and general running wild.  Daylight lasted until two in the morning, and returned after a short, dusky time. At the end of the trip, Bryan took me for a hike to Hope, because he told, everyone needs a little hope.  It turns out to be quite true, though hope may not always be easy to find.

It’s mid-January in northern Illinois, and while it’s not as dark as Alaska this time of year, it may be just as cold this winter.  Weather forecasters are cautioning that the ‘polar vortex’ may return as temperature plummet this evening.  I am feeling in need of a little hope, a little reminder that it will be warmer and lighter, and we can all run around a little wild when spring comes knocking. So I look at seed catalogs and the forlorn spot in the back yard that will become the garden, and imagine June, July, and August.  I have the idea that we might appreciate summer even more this year because of ‘arctic conditions’ that define the winter of 2014.

darksky.barn

Here are my 2014 reasons for hope:

The FoxPlot still is, despite internet silence for a long time now.  I just renewed the domain for another year.

rainbow.barn

The FoxPlot has grown! We added a person in 2012, then we became mortgage holders in June 2013.  It means we now have a baby, a house, 2.6 acres, a barn, and a cat.

The baby is less of a baby, and more of a toddler.  At 15 months, she is still reluctant to walk, but I predict by the time warm weather arrives, she will be running. I imagine this means a few more trampled plants but at least she doesn’t need to be carried.

ruby.widow.snow

We have 80% of a hoop house, 12×25, to start plants in this spring! It needs some end walls, a door, plastic, and some heat but those are doable when spring gets closer.

That’s enough hope to get to me spring.

.

After much too long

Here’s my lame excuse:  We’ve been so busy! I know that’s true for just about everyone these days, but will nonetheless take the next several paragraphs to demonstrate just how busy this summer has been. It has literally been three months since a blog post went up, and I am certain I have missed the best part of growing season because of ‘being busy’.

Way back when, in June, the garden was looking pretty excellent.  I had this detailed plan of what crop would be planted in each row,  and by when it must be harvested in order to replant the next crop. Sometime around the beginning of July, I realized that I hadn’t looked in at my lovely plan in over a month. Another crucial happening between June and July: it was hotter than Hades and we were dipping into drought territory!  While there were things to harvest and take to market, the unbearable heat and dry weather made germinating the next crop impossible. Even if we could have watered enough to get a few seeds to sprout, the 100+ days would have cooked the little sprouts where they lay, sort of like a stir-fry.

The bees managed to hang in there, slurping up little drags of moisture from the garden and anywhere else we watered intermittently.  Somehow, they have maintained productive hives this season, and we have harvested twice this summer.  I discovered that bees don’t like the repeated sweltering days anymore than I do. Hot and bothered doesn’t begin to describe how they felt about me intruding one hot, hot week in June.  My mom and I both got stung that go round, and learned best to wait until the temperatures are in the 80’s to go peeking in on the bees.  The first harvest had a distinctly minty flavor to it, and the second a more neutral, light ‘honey’ flavor.  We have done some hive inspections in the past week and dismantled the one hive that had become infested with wax moths.  It was to be sure, a lesson in ‘problems that don’t age well’.  We had discovered the wax moths several months earlier, but didn’t quite know what to do about it so closed the hive back up with the intent to go back shortly and address the problem. You should be glad I don’t have pictures of this one- wax moth worms are very squirmy and very gross.

Outside of Fox Plot vegetables and Harmon Honey, we have spent considerable time house-hunting, having a wedding, getting ready for ‘Elmer’ to be delivered by a stork, and well, working our day jobs. The wedding was fantastic, with only a handful of things gone wrong, of which hardly a soul noticed.  (Erm, only two astute observers pointed out to me that I put the ring on the wrong hand). My favorite part was having so many dear, dear people gathered together, and my least favorite part was that the day flew by in fast forward and I kept hoping to find the pause button to just enjoy a few more minutes.  Fly boy looked so dashing in his new suit, and we did not recess down the aisle in conventional fashion after the ceremony, but took off pedaling on the tandem. No one’s fancy clothes got stuck in moving bike parts and I didn’t fall off!  There was much eating, drinking, and dancing until our toes couldn’t take it any more.  It was all in all, one of my favorite days ever.

Nonetheless, the garden still manages to produce, though I’ve had to take a temporary hiatus from the farmers’ market until next season.  In celebration of the nuptials, the Fox Plot received a hand crafted Whiz Bang garden cart.  Complete with the Conestoga option and deployable back legs, I predict this cart will change gardening (and beekeeping!) as we know it.  

We did plant a few fall things- mostly lettuces and cabbages.  There are still starts to transplant, but at this point, it might be too late.  The late planted tomatoes are in full productions- all 80 plants of 28 varieties!  I have been picking every three to four days, and have been putting them up in every possible way I can think of.  I’ve sliced, dried, roasted, blanched, peeled, stewed, simmered, and strained tomatoes this weekend.  
Unfortunately, I am not yet close to done as there are still two bins of tomatoes in my kitchen and I need to pick again today!